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The Licengoons: A Short Film Which Pokes Fun at the BBC's Decision to Scrap Free TV Licenses for Pensioners

19 October 20 words: Jamie Morris

Our Screen co-editor Jamie Morris speaks to the stars of The Licengoons, Miles Anthony and Alex Greensmith, about their hilariously punchy new short film…

In August, the BBC doubled-down on its decision to scrap the universal free TV license for over-75s, but many continue to speak out against this controversial move. 23-year-old filmmaker Miles Anthony has voiced his dissent in the form of a nineteen-minute dark comedy shot on the streets of Notts that pulls no punches in its criticism of the license fee and enforcement officers. 

The new short begins with a visit from officer Reith Trethowan (played by NTU graduate Alex Greensmith) to the home of an elderly license fee dodger named Sybil. When Reith’s mild-mannered approach doesn’t get the job done, the Beeb sends in the big guns: “license goon” John Null, portrayed by Miles himself.  

“We needed these guys to resemble the two faces of the BBC,” Miles told us. “You've got Reith who represents Doctor Who [and] the amazing achievements the corporation has accomplished; the BBC they want you to see. John is the underbelly of that – Operation Yewtree, Savile, the TV licensing – all the nasty stuff they don't want you to know.”

The Licengoons takes place in the seventies, primarily to increase the plausibility of the film’s story, in case audiences would be skeptical of something like this happening today. Ironically, the climax is inspired by a 2011 incident in which a license officer sexually assaulted a woman in her home, so a change of setting also helped the crew to create some distance from this real-life case and avoid being disrespectful.

“It’s a little bit of hyperbole over what actually happened,” said Alex. “The viewer wouldn't be necessarily left feeling sad, but wondering the questions that we want to be asked about this, like the safety for the over-75s and the purpose of the TV license officer.” 

Miles and Alex consulted cast members Evadne Fisher (Sybil) and Mike Newbold (the officers’ superior) to accurately recreate 1970s Notts, as well as looking to the set designers for advice on shooting locations, which included the red phone box by Nottingham Castle and a suburb in Arnold to obscure any modern influence.

“We didn't really have the budget to do what you see in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, where they built the whole street,” Miles laughed. “They had to have Brad Pitt constantly driving in his car just to show off the set.”

Quentin Tarantino is an easy comparison to make with Miles’ style; with the use of dramatic zooms and title cards, The Licengoons features the same visual flairs popularised by the Pulp Fiction director. But Miles explained that his influences mainly come from video games rather than film, citing the No More Heroes creator Goichi Suda as a key inspiration. 

“In a game, because it's animated, you get some really unique shots in there, so it was really quite fun to try and emulate that,” he elaborated. “It wasn't super fun for the cinematographer because we were on a tight budget, but it was fun for me.”

Plans for Miles’ next project aren’t yet set in stone, but he suggested his first feature film could be on the horizon – and Alex is interested, too. “You hear all these bad things about the film industry about how it’s horrible and cliquey,” the latter said. “Maybe that could be the case in the more structured corporate side, but in an indie film I've certainly had a blast and I'd love to do it again, especially with Miles.”

The Licengoons is available now on YouTube


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