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From Collectibles To Crime Scene: The Evolution Of Manchester Gallery

December 17, 2010 | By | 1 Comment

“Best of Chicago DIY Film” series. Originally appeared on the site 10/05/2010

Terrence Flamm

The penultimate episode of Manchester Gallery finds Terrence, the devious and inept curator of a pop culture museum, preparing to sell a rare Beatles button to a shady operative known only as “Boogaloo.” Terrence sits on a deserted, windswept pier by a small lake, wondering aloud how he came to this unlikely situation. As the writer and chief performer for this Internet-based series, I find myself thinking along the same lines. How did a simple idea for a person displaying collectible items turn into some kind of soap opera/sitcom hybrid with guest stars and plot twists?

Back in late 2009, Jeff Kelley asked me to create some short bits for his weekly Internet show, Sunday Morning Coffee With Jeff. My initial concept to showcase Beatles and other assorted entertainment memorabilia felt like a good match for Sunday Morning Coffee With Jeff, which used vintage TV commercials and B-movie horror flicks to target a generation that grew up during the 1960s. Kelley also spiked his show with his own animated satires and humorous commentary.

I toyed with the idea of wearing a Beatles wig and affecting a British persona, but despite two decades of performing in the Famous In The Future comedy group, I don’t do accents very well. Instead, I created the character of Terrence, a snobby, Frasier Crane-like curator. As the shows progressed, Terrence would exaggerate the value and importance of each piece he presented. For example, he compared a four-inch tall action figure of Illya Kuryakin from The Man From Uncle TV series to the wax figures at Madame Tussaud’s, and placed it on a pedestal.

Meanwhile, my wife Pam, who taped and edited these segments, became more adept at finding crowd scenes and other public domain footage on the Internet. Adding them was a funny way to create the impression that Manchester Gallery was an actual building, when in reality, it was just a small upstairs room in our house. This matched Kelley’s aesthetic on Sunday Morning Coffee With Jeff, where he often joked about his makeshift set of just a table and chair, with a series of vintage movie posters on the wall behind him. He would simply set up his video camera, and there would be no close-ups and no external mic. Kelley used public domain clips, not only to establish a theme for each program, but also sometimes to create the illusion that he was working with a bigger budget.

By that point, Manchester Gallery had become part of a growing roster of clips from other contributors on Sunday Morning Coffee With Jeff, including the affable Willy Deal, whose On The Road segments always seemed to cover the hard rock cover band Goin’ South. Other regular features included Anklebone Stories, a sort of warped fairy tale anthology, and the self-explanatory Mark Reads The News. Kelley started using a split screen for an ongoing gag where he would be interrupted by an annoying phone call, such as Deal asking about hiring key grips and gaffers. There was also a call from Terrence, seeking royalty checks for Manchester Gallery.

Artist Dave Metzger, a friend as well as an avid Sunday Morning Coffee With Jeff viewer, told me he had a Beatles button that would be perfect for Manchester Gallery. Pam and I went to a Wicker Park art show where Metzger was displaying his work, and with his help, created a parody of Antique Road Show. Metzger played a character who had found a Beatles button in his late uncle’s attic, and Terrence explained that it was such a rare item that it would probably fetch $40,000 at an auction. When Metzger’s character fainted, Terrence ran off with the button. Metzger created his own clip for Sunday Morning Coffee With Jeff that showed his character consulting a fortune teller (played by his wife, Jessie) to help retrieve the button. Kelley also kept the ball rolling by making comments about Terrence’s deception from time to time on his show.

After that, Manchester Gallery became more and more like a sitcom careening toward a series finale, as Terrence stumbled into one fictional jam after another. A children’s show featuring quarreling puppets of George Harrison and Graham Nash ended with parents demanding their money back; the gallery’s new blimp crash landed on a grammar school; and a vicious guard dog got loose while children were frolicking on the grounds for an “Easter In July Treasure Hunt” promotion.

Karen Yashon-Brown, a talented comic actress who had performed with me for years in the Famous In The Future comedy group, did a guest spot as Bernice Webb, the Gallery’s harried Chief of PR. That episode also featured a cameo by Kelley as a waiter in the Gallery’s cafe, as well as a return appearance by Metzger’s character. On the day we taped that segment of Manchester Gallery, Kelley also taped a short skit called The Cancelers I had written in my Famous In The Future days. The sketch, which featured Metzger, Yashon-Brown, and myself appeared on a later edition of Sunday Morning Coffee With Jeff.

Another Manchester Gallery plot line involved The British Museum lending Terrence the actual scrambled eggs Paul McCartney had been eating when he was inspired to compose “Yesterday.” (This was loosely based on a true story.) After Terrence proudly displayed the eggs, which had been carefully preserved in England for four decades, his two cats ate them while he wasn’t looking. Terrence sent replacement eggs back to The British Museum, but they caught on, and sent a private detective named Sam Smythe (played by my Anglo neighbor, Larry Hall) to investigate.

Smythe demanded that all the Manchester Gallery items be sold at a garage sale to make up the cost of the lost McCartney eggs. Which is what brought Terrence to his rendezvous with Boogaloo at the lakefront. Faced with the prospect of losing his treasured Manchester Gallery, Terrence tried to find a buyer for the purloined Beatles button on the black market.

I’m guessing the Manchester Gallery finale will be seen at some point in mid-October. The end comes at a time when Sunday Morning Coffee With Jeff is going through other changes. The Goin’ South band broke up, so now Deal is scrambling for something new to cover for his On The Road segments. Kelley is hoping to recruit more outside contributors. I’m eager to take on my next project for Jeff’s show, but I’d also love to find a way to bring the episodes of Manchester Gallery to wider audience.

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Comments (1)

  1. Willy Deal

    Great article Terry!

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