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Jonathan Rendall: The Greatest Gonzo Writer You've Never Heard Of

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The Gambler: The Late Jonathan Rendall at His Overworked Gonzo Best

by Austin Collings
2 March 2013 7 Comments

Jonathon Rendall was famous for burning the candle at both ends, and More 4's re-run of this brilliant mini series will show you just why the recently deceased writer was so highly regarded...


Having recently penned an obituary for the writer Jonathan Rendall (1964-2013) in The Times, partly celebrating his short, but brilliant, career, I had a strong, melancholy urge to go back and watch the three-part mini-series that he’d scripted and fronted in 2001, called The Gambler.

Within minutes of sending a speculative email to the director, Paul Wilmshurst, I got a refreshingly swift reply, saying he’d be more than happy to send me a copy, and that I should also contact Roy Ackerman, the producer, for it was Roy who really ‘got’ Rendall. Roy’s equally quick reply was clear confirmation that Rendall meant something to him, beyond the ordinary bonds of TV and work. He also mentioned that he’d managed to coerce More4 into repeating The Gambler some time soon.

Thankfully, that some time soon has arrived: this Saturday, in fact, at 12.05am. Watching it again it’s even better than I first remembered it, back in 2001, as a deeply impressionable would-be-writer in search of a British Bukowski-type who understood the complexly pathetic and wantonly wild moments that define certain lifestyles. Rendall was a friend, of sorts, in that respect. He seemed to understand the mystery of experience, or the ‘illusion of comprehension’ as Samuel Beckett describes it. Such writers are a rare find.


Jonathan Rendall: The Greatest Gonzo Writer You’ve Never Heard Of

Willie Thorne Interview: Addiction, Bankruptcy and Taking A Punt On Life

Inspired by the obvious brilliance of his second book, Twelve Grand (2000), Channel 4 commissioned a series. The pitch ran like the book, where Rendall was given £12,000 by the publishers Yellow Jersey Press, over a period of three months, at four grand a month, to gamble on whatever took his fancy: horses, dogs, boxing, etv. Unfortunately, like the very best, or very worst form of method writing, the book took a lot out of Rendall. The Jon on the page appeared a lot like the Jon in real life: a man who burned the candle at both ends whilst holding a blowtorch to the middle.

Re-watching the series, you get the feeling if it was made today they’d milk it to buggery, shamelessly wallow in his bad luck and heavy drinking, sentimentalise every other frame with poxy music, trite chords and notes, plonked or plucked to swell the heart and tear-ducts. It’s a testament to Wilmshurst and Ackerman that this isn’t the case. The tone is almost pitch-perfect: a fitting reflection of Rendall, the writer, who wrote with both a highly defined sense of the absurd and a hard-iron edge.

Forever the enemy of the cliche, he makes for an endearingly unpolished presenter – or to be more exact – guide. You can’t help but root for him. Up or down, ecstatic or just plain pissed-off, he seemed made for TV, even if his chaotic tendencies and colourful personality didn’t quite fit the usual TV type. In some ways he resembles Keith Floyd, by way of Hunter S Thomson: a genuine personality who doesn’t patronise the public or lick up to authority.

Watch The Gambler On More 4, Saturday 2nd March 12.05am

If you like it, Pass it on

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Dave 11:17 am, 2-Mar-2013

ta for the tip, Sky+'d it I remember that from the first time around but managed to miss it D

Richard Smith 11:26 pm, 2-Mar-2013

Thanks for the heads up. I'm almost certain I saw this as I was immersed in poker at the time.

Debbie 9:22 pm, 6-Mar-2013

This caught my eye whilst looking for something to watch that didn't insult my intelligence on a Saturday night-I really enjoyed it-you couldn't help but root for the guy. I've never gone the gambling route but understand addiction oh so well so saw a lot of myself in him. Really looking forward to the rest of the series.

Gio 11:40 pm, 10-Mar-2013

I can't find this on catchup . Or online .

Robert Hedges 3:19 am, 17-Mar-2013

I can see my self.Win win lose win win lose lose lose lose win happy win lose lose lose down down down up up happy down down and on and on and on.?

jamie 2:08 pm, 14-Nov-2013

The Gambler is on 4od, it is fantastic, the man is such a brilliant character and the compelling story is told brilliantly. The background cast alone make it worth watching, but it's Rendall that shines.

peter hesketh 9:19 pm, 10-Dec-2014

Truley amazing person, inspirational and sadly missed, rip johnathan

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