Wednesday, December 31, 2008
There are other, subtler distinctions at play in the whole sideshow. Why is it Sir Mick Jagger, but only Robert Plant CBE? Sir Percy's got a ring to it, no? Why is it Sir Tom Jones, but only Bruce Forsyth CBE or Ronnie Corbett OBE? Why do I care so much about this largely meaningless display of patronage? Stan Tracey had it right when he received the OBE (since upgraded to a C, but if anyone deserves an hereditary peerage for services to jazz, it's Stan). Someone said to him that he must feel very honoured. He replied "Does it get me a discount in Sainsbury's?".
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Thursday, December 25, 2008
"Recently several internet sites - including the IMDB - claimed Askwith had played the lead in Oh No, Its Derek Anus, a 1972 LWT sitcom. However it has since emerged that this was an internet prank/hoax and no such TV show exists, the IMDB no longer carries a listing for Derek Anus."
The trouble is that I now want this show to be real. It couldn't be worse than Bottle Boys.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
As a special Christmas bonus, I have been alerted to the return of the ads for Mike's Carpets to Yorkshire Television. These cheaply-made efforts, featuring a man in a roomful of synthetic rugs with something similar perched on his bonce are the kind of commercials that come to the fore in times of recession. During boom times, ITV lives high off the hog, and has no need of Mike's advertising pound. However, when the chips are down and the Woolworths account has gone down the gurgler, the rate card goes out of the window and all money is good money, especially if it prevents ad breaks from consisting entirely of trailers for things starring Robson Green. Here's some vintage Mike. I'm just off to record a couple of hours of YTV in the hope of catching one of the new ads. Merry Christmas to one and all.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Monday, December 22, 2008
So, for what would have been Saturday's offering, have another end credit, this time from Morecambe & Wise's 1976 Christmas show. This is, apparently, the only picture in existence of the boys with producer Ernest Maxin (the frantic pace of rehearsal and production left nary enough time for even a snapshot), and even then, Maxin is obscured. Perhaps they thought he was too handsome to share the limelight with them. Bunging this fine picture on here gives me a chance to alert your attention to the latest issue of the very fine Kettering which contains a piece by me on how video tape rescued the Christmas TV schedules, and a splendid dissertation on Sunday night ITV comedies by that nice Mr Norman, among other treats.
In Sunday's window, we find one of the obscurer idents from the 2002-2006 BBC1 'Rhythm and Movement' package, while for Monday, we return to 1993 for an edition of The Late Show about the new ITV contractors. The production credit for the programme was in the style of the idents used at the time by Carlton in London.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Monday, December 15, 2008
Secondly, the final credit from the BBC's 1972 adaptation of Hedda Gabler, complete with copyright date added as an afterthought, as this was the transitional era between shows ending with a simple BBC tv (up to late 1971, if memory serves), BBC Colour (late 1971-early 1972) and displaying a date. Roman numerals were adopted from 1977 onwards, apparently to disguise the age of some of the repeats.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Talking of slappable, I was almost roused to violence at the cashpoint earlier. Now, I try wherever possible to avoid the Daily Mail 'hell in a handcart/isn't everything ghastly?' view of modern life. This isn't because I think everything's just dandy. It's because I believe fervently that man's default position is rudeness and self-interest, and that we've always been closer to hell than we care to acknowledge. However, the arsehole who pushed in front of me as I tried to pay a cheque in must be closer than most. There I was, standing well back from the person ahead of me in the queue, doing that ostentatious 'I can't see your PIN. Ooooh look at the watch straps in Timpsons' window' thing. I turned back to notice a chap had taken up a position at my side, a little in front of me. It came to what I knew to be my turn, and this bloke stepped forward with me, and stood at my side, looking at the keypad. Momentarily discombobulated by the brass neck of the man, I turned to him and said "If you're that desperate, you'd better go in front", rather than telling him to get behind me and wait his fucking turn. He said "Thanks", barged in and inserted his card. To the back of his head, I said "Actually, I was being a little sarcastic back then. I've got better things to do than stand around by cashpoints on freezing cold nights, giving way to pisstakers". He got his money out. He went back to his car, where his fugly wife/sister/both was waiting. I put my card in, and the screen changed to read 'Temporarily out of service'. At this point, had I been in need of cash rather than depositing, I wouldn't have liked to be this twunt. I would have thrown my bike squarely at his windscreen and taken the consequences fully. How do people like that go through life without ending up perpetually in traction?
Friday, December 12, 2008
STOP PRESS: I have had an offer of a diary.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Monday, December 08, 2008
And now an appeal on behalf of Cheeseford. The other day, I found myself in a well-known chain of stationers, perusing the pocket diaries. Then I thought that there must still be companies or organisations out there flush enough to have their own diaries made for their staff and to give away to valued clients, etc. So, before I shell out for a standard Letts job with integral pencil, is there anyone reading this with access to complimentary diaries, and, if so, can I please have one? The more outlandish or notorious the firm, the better. If South African Nazi Tobacco are kind enough to give me the means to organise my 2009, then I owe it to them to carry their week-to-view masterpiece with pride. And if I get more than one offer, I will find homes for the surplus in a spirit of mutual goodwill, back-slapping and cross-fertilisation.
Sunday, December 07, 2008
So, for day 7 of the CVTNAC, I present a 2005 leaflet sent to satellite-equipped houses in the east of the Anglia region, announcing that they no longer had to watch the Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire variant of Anglia Tonight, as ITV had shelled out to send both Anglia sub-regions into outer space. Comely weather person Wendy Hurrell must have sensed the way things were going, as she's now with BBC London. Incidentally, if the winner of the "meal at one of East Anglia's most prestigious restaurants" is reading this, please get in touch. It was saveloy and chips from the stall in Norwich market, wasn't it?
Saturday, December 06, 2008
As for the digital minidish on the back of the house, I've kept it for ready access to the BBC and ITV regional opt-outs. There's very little difference between them these days, but it was always nice to be able to dial into Puffin's Pla(i)ce if the mood took me. Also when a programme started later in Northern Ireland, it acted as a +1 option. However, the installation came into its own on New Year's Eve, allowing the Swiss Family Cheeseford to tap into BBC1 Scotland for the Still Game Hogmanay special and a rather jolly celebration of the New Year with Caledonian current affairs' top Marti Caine lookalike, Jackie Bird. The other satellite box also gets a bit of a pasting on NYE, what with Dinner for One and all that.
However, in recent months, the signal quality on the 28.2E installation has dropped, making reception very intermittent. Reading around on the Internet, I worked out that the old LNB (the bit on the front of the dish) had started to fail. I had a spare LNB, bought in Lidl many moons ago, and today I finally summoned up the enthusiasm to replace the old device. The problem is that the dish is on a part of the roof that can't be accessed readily without duckboards and considerable risk to life. As dishes require very fine adjustment to give of their best, staying at a safe distance and prodding it round with a broom handle doesn't really work. I spent most of this morning up a ladder, cutting cables to length and titting around with the brackets, but to no avail. The new LNB's on there, it's picking up something, but it's off-kilter. I had to give up as the light was failing, and I'm going to have another prod with the broom tomorrow, but I can't help but think that with minidishes going for £20-odd on eBay, I should just buy a new one and put it somewhere that I can get at it. Fair enough, but then comes the question 'Can I justify £20 plus P&P, then an afternoon up a ladder making everyone anxious, simply for one night's television a year and the occasional glimpse at Gordon Burns on North West Tonight?'. These are straitened times, and with perfectly adequate Freeview, plus whatever I can swipe from the Germans, and numerous other repair jobs ahead of this in the financial queue, I'm inclining towards 'No'.
STOP PRESS: No joy with day 2 of Operation Broomprod. I think I can, however, run to an auxiliary bracket costing less than a tenner that allows me to receive 19.2E and 28.2E on the same dish. Sorted.
Friday, December 05, 2008
Thursday, December 04, 2008
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
For anyone wondering what my connection to AQA is, I'm one of the researchers. I might even have told you what time your last bus leaves in the past. I also wrote most of the chapter introductions in the current Brilliant Answers book, so, in a sense, I have two books out there this Christmas. Give generously to an author who's not quite starving, but who seems to be landed with unexpected expenditure at every turn.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Monday, December 01, 2008
Lovely. Another broadcasting icon tomorrow.
Friday, November 28, 2008
However, in a former life, Harry was a Border Television man, producing and directing programmes like Mr & Mrs and Look Who's Talking for the ITV network. As ITV stands now, it's astonishing to think that two popular network shows could come from one of the smallest regional companies. Having visited Border in the early 1990s when a friend worked there and seen the size of the studio they used for quiz shows and chat shows with a live audience, it's even more astonishing. I've just hoiked Television and Radio 1984 off the shelf, and it says that Border's biggest studio was 94 square metres. At BBC Television Centre, the old N1 news studio (now TC10, used for very small, simple productions) was 111 square metres. Sadly, the Durranhill studios are not long for this world, with the Border region set to be rationalised out of existence in the digital switchover.
They were good shows too, not parochial. Look Who's Talking regularly got top entertainment names up to Carlisle for a chat with Derek Batey. Border also made some big shows for Channel 4, not least The Groovy Fellers with Jools Holland and Rowland Rivron - which was a truly great example of what can happen when funny people are sent off to apparently random places with a camera crew in tow. Streets ahead of Paul India in Merton, certainly.
Now, just about everything studio-based ITV show is made in London, Manchester or, to a lesser degree, Leeds. Gone is Anglia's fine tradition of drama programming and Sale of the Century. No more children's programmes from Southern/TVS. No more That's My Dog from Plymouth. With the BBC determined to evict as much programming as possible from Wood Lane, London, W12 8QT, it seems odd that ITV is consolidating like mad and concentrating production in a handful of expensive bits of city centre real estate, rather than building on its regional expertise.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Rachel Johnson - sister of Boris - won the prize, and John Updike - who's been nominated for the award four times, got a lifetime achievement award in absentia, to mark his 'always the bridesmaid' status.
- Alexander Waugh's always-superb speech - definitely his father's son in the best possible way
- Nancy dell'Olio reading Updike's acceptance speech
- Meeting Georgina Baillie in the cloakroom queue and drunkenly asking her what it's like to have such a gracious, cool, unflappable grandad and instructing her to give him a hug from me. I think she thought I was a tabloid scumbucket trying to catch her out, because she clammed up completely. You can supply your own punchline. I'm far too gentlemanly.
Monday, November 24, 2008
As it happens, I do fancy a change, as, like just about every other four-eyed git in Britain, I have little oblong specs, because they seem to be the only ones you can get. I don't like them, though. I'd quite like something that improves my peripheral vision as well as the main focus. Little oblong jobs don't do that. I have it on good authority that Hank Marvin wears big glasses partly because they're his trademark, but also because with little frames, he wouldn't be able to see his guitar properly when he glances down.
When I was at university, I affected a pair of round tortoiseshell specs that can only be described as Richard Wattis-chic. They came from Specsavers - bliss it was in that dawn to be alive. No chance that they'd carry similar styles now, the swines. Fortunately, Opera Opera in London have very similar frames in stock. They know how to charge, but as they have them custom-made in Britain, rather than stamped out in an oriental sweat shop, that's understandable. They also offer them in clear plastic, which would be wonderful as long as I don't wear them with a dark suit. I admire Jonathan Meades too much to invite even superficial comparisons.
Back to the high street: in one shop, I asked why all of the glasses on display were little, oblong jobs. The assistant replied "There's no call for any other kind, sir". I replied that I was calling for them, couldn't find any anywhere and that maybe, just maybe, there would be some other calls for them if they had any in stock. "We tried, sir, but no-one wanted them". Having a suspicion that I was well over halfway round a circular argument, I gave up. I also suspected that the alternative styles they'd tried had come from the Dennis Nilsen Serial-Killer-About-Muswell-Hill range. So, what's the story there? Does an optometric insider have the skinny on skinny glasses? What, to be frank, are they trying to pull?
STOP PRESS: I've gone for these in tortoiseshell. Named after the Two Ronnies and only £34. It had to be done.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Saturday, November 22, 2008
In other news, I can report with great pleasure that I have accepted a modest advance from a small left-wing press to pen an unauthorised biography of Jon Gaunt.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
If his exit is the result of a decent man deciding his own fate, fair enough, but if it was another case of the BBC shitting itself in the face of adverse newspaper coverage, the fact will emerge eventually and make matters far far worse for Auntie.
Meanwhile, TalkSport's long-overdue sacking of Jon Gaunt, the Poundland Don Imus, means that he now has more time to spend with his gorgeous wife Lisa and his beautiful daughters Rosie and Bethany. Lucky them. I well remember peeing myself laughing when I read this and present it again for your amusement.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Sunday, November 16, 2008
No sign of it online yet, but Roger Lewis has reviewed Turned Out Nice Again in today's Mail on Sunday. He makes the fair point that variety's such an amorphous mess, it's almost impossible to make any sort of sense of it. At times, writing the bloody thing did feel like plaiting sawdust, but I felt and still feel that it was worth trying. He concludes that it was worth trying too, and recommends it as background reading for media studies students. I'll take that as a compliment...
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Friday, November 14, 2008
On Friday, 24th October, we formally completed the acquisition of Alliance & Leicester. It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the Santander Group.
You are now part of one of the world's most successful banks. Santander is first bank in the Eurozone by market capitalization, and fifth in the world by profits, with over 70 million customers in 40 countries.
You are kindly advised to follow the instructions below to register your account to allow easy merger.
Now I've never had the Abbey habit or trusted any of my money to Sprocket & Sylvester, so this is obviously a phishing attempt. If I were to follow the instructions, the only easy merger that would occur is that of all my hard-earned money with that of the scammers. Does anyone ever fall for this sort of thing? And if they do, don't they deserve to be fleeced for being so bloody stupid?
I love this bit:
"By becoming part of the Santander Group, Alliance & Leicester has acquired strong backing, which is crucial in these difficult financial times."
Which translates roughly as "By clicking on the link in this email, these difficult financial times will get more difficult for you, sucker."
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
The book in question is published by Kaleidoscope, the excellent organisation devoted to promoting interest in archive television and radio, and finding lost programmes. It would appear that the reviewer, Steve Bennett, hasn't seen a Kaleidoscope book before, because this is what they do - they cram as much information as they possibly can into their books, some of which are more directories than historical narratives. They're not meant to read like a John Grisham novel. They're research tools, and I'm immensely grateful that they exist. Bennett notes, quite rightly, that Week Ending's importance is less because of its inherent quality (in fact, the gags were often woefully poor) than the fact that it gave first breaks to pretty much everyone who came to prominence in comedy and satire between the 1970s and the 1990s. The exhaustive, painstaking show-by-show, sketch-by-sketch listing is, he says, tedious. No, no, no. I also fail to see how "Over 25 pages, there are no fewer than 106 footnotes" can be presented as a failing. Footnotes contain vital supplementary information that would otherwise hold up the main narrative. In compiling it and publishing this book, Greaves, Lewis and Kaleidoscope have done future comedy historians a great service. The authors have spent days sweating over P-as-Bs at Caversham so no-one else has to. This book will be of immense worth and interest to anyone attempting to research British comedy of the recent past.
My main problem with the review is that Bennett seems to have savaged it for not being something it was never intended to be. Anyone who says that my problem is also motivated by my friendship with Ian and Justin, and the fact that I owe Simon Coward from Kaleidoscope £50 for a part-share in an Oscar Peterson Jazz 625 telerecording, is bang off the mark and will be hearing from my lawyer forthwith.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Of course, all of the nice reviews in the world are useless if the book can't be bought anywhere. At my hometown Waterstone's, Mrs Cheeseford tripped over ceiling-high piles of Why Do I Say These Things? by Jonathan Ross and At My Mother's Knee...and Other Low Joints by Paul O'Grady to discover that they have no intention of stocking Turned Out Shite Again, despite me being all over local radio like a cheap suit. On a flying business visit to London yesterday, I popped in to Waterstone's on Oxford Street. Nada. The gigantic Borders had one copy, which the very nice bookseller chap in films and media invited me to sign. I suspect that 90% of any sales I garner will take place through Amazon. Talking of which, one of their used and new affiliates was punting the work out for £6.99, which is about half of what my publisher would charge me, even with my author's discount. Over lunch, brer publisher mused that it was almost certainly a books desk junior staff member supplementing their meagre income. As indeed I did myself when on Publishing News. Good luck to 'em.
Incidentally, I haven't read the aforementioned O'Grady book, but intend to fully when I get a chance. I approve of it already for signalling a return to showbiz autobiographies with amusing titles. We've had too many years of Ronseal drabness like Dale: My Story and Bruce: the Autobiography. A showbiz memoir should have a funny title, preferably one that makes no sense until you've read the book, like Shake a Pagoda Tree by Mike and Bernie Winters or Michael Aspel's Polly Wants a Zebra. Any other good ones spring to mind?
Sunday, November 09, 2008
Friday, November 07, 2008
Thursday, November 06, 2008
Looking for alternative sustenance, I passed a fish and chip shop on my bike, and decided that I suddenly fancied saveloy and chips. As I placed my order, the chief fryer gave me a quizzical look. "You want saveloys? You mean the red sausages?". As I was hungry, feeling unaccountably charitable and not reckoning much on a stranger's mucus as a condiment, I bit my tongue and nodded, but surely a saveloy is a saveloy and a sausage is a sausage?
As I sat on a nearby wall, eating my (very nice) red sausage, chips and mushy peas, I noticed a superb poster in a newsagent's window. This one, in fact.
In the shorthand of headline writing, putting something in quotes means that "we've heard this, and nobody will confirm it, but we're desperate so we're printing it anyway". Similarly, a question mark indicates that they're making it up as they go along. In this case, the Ipswich Evening Star was trying desperately to find a local angle on the big international story of the moment. Of course, the headline is designed to make the casual viewer think that the leader of the free world may be about to enjoy a break on the Norfolk Broads before taking office. On closer inspection, it turns out that Obama might land at Stansted on his first official visit to Britain, before being whisked to London as soon as humanly possible. Anyway, the poster made me laugh, and I hope it amuses you a bit too.
What happened next wasn't so jolly. Having taken the picture, I was approached by a chap in a hoodie, his eye movements indicating that his bloodstream contained something stronger than 2 jumbo saveloys, chips, peas and a can of ginger beer. "Are you taking my picture?" he asked in a threatening tone of voice. "No," I replied. "You were taking my picture," he continued. Taking great care to maintain a vice-like grip on the camera (street value: unknown), I showed him my picture on the preview screen, and reassured him that I had not and would never want to take his picture. By this time, he'd been joined by a motley crew of smackheads of both sexes, all bollocking on about how taking pictures of people in the street was against the law and an infringement of their civil liberties. I know, the irony wasn't lost on me, but I settled for staring at them quite hard (something were too whacked to achieve in return) before moving on. I was, however, boiling with rage.
I live in the same county, but Ipswich would appear to be a different world.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Monday, November 03, 2008
I'll spare you the full Fear and Loathing travelogue, but a couple of highlights spring to mind. First was the Oldie Travel Awards at the East India Club. Now, despite being a mere stripling of 35, I've been an Oldie contributor for nearly a decade. I live in hope that the magazine will still exist when I'm a real oldie myself.
Second was the fulfilment of a long-deferred ambition, while visiting Mrs Cheeseford's parents in Bristol. In one of his 1960s documentaries on the west country, John Betjeman had featured a small escarpment in the Avon Gorge by Clifton Suspension Bridge, down which generations of Bristolian children had slid on their backsides, rendering the rock completely smooth. When I saw the programme, I thought 'I'm having some of that'. I ascertained that men in hard hats hadn't cordoned off the area for health and safety reasons, but somehow other commitments our our great western jaunts always got in the way. Until now:
Just one question arises. For the first, say, 100 years of the slide's existence, wouldn't it have been quite a rough ride? The darning needles of north-east Somerset must have been well-used.
Finally, there was the Blue Peter Goes Gold event run by the estimable Kaleidoscope at BAFTA. A day of laughter, hilarity, hard hats, vast quantities of beer and mock shock when we heard Biddy Baxter using the word 'cleavage'. After the 7 (count 'em) hours of clips and panels (something that might be perceived by some as an ordeal, only marginally preferable to spending the time with Peter Stringfellow in Basra, but they're wrong, it was great), we trooped upstairs to mark the publication of Ian Greaves and Justin Lewis' Prime Minister, You Wanted to See Me, and BAFTA: Behind the Mask by Reginald Collin. As well being a former director of the Academy, Collin is also a former director of top-rated drama series like Callan, and a fund of superb stories about the golden years of television. It was made apparent, at one time, that BAFTA could easily become RAFTA if it so desired. The desire, however, wasn't there. One reason was the potential for confusion with the Royal Academy over the road in Piccadilly, giving rise to the image of cab drivers asking fares if they wanted the one where the pictures moved, or the one where they stayed still.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Despite this blog being the fount of all light entertainment knowledge, I shall avoid dwelling on the Jonathan Ross/Russell Brand incident. Apart from to say that Andrew Sachs appears to be one of the most tolerant and decent men alive. If only those with a less direct connection to the furore could show such grace and restraint.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Back in my days on Publishing News, party small talk around this time of year always began with "What do you think of the Booker short-list?". This would then be followed by vague mumblings, designed to give the impression that the answerer had read even a paragraph of one of the novels. It was one of those situations where you really could have had your opinions handed to you on a crib sheet.
Unless, that is, you were me or a colleague. I was always scrupulously honest and admitted that I had no idea, not being much of a one for fiction. This was always sure to produce a Bateman cartoon response, even though the person asking me almost certainly had no more of a real clue than I did. Once, a publishing type pressed further and said "Come on, you must read some fiction", at which I confessed to a penchant for PG Wodehouse. "Oh," came the reply. "Old books. Don't you read anything new?". "Yes, AI (advance information) sheets mainly," feeling almost 99% sure that this person's opinion of modern writing came from the same source and reviews. M'colleague's response was far subtler, bordering on genius. He'd simply reply "Another good year for fiction". Then, in the pregnant moment while the questioner was trying to work out whether he was expressing surprise that so much fiction should make it through to the short list of a fiction prize, or whether he was saying that he liked all of the books on the list, m'colleague would change the subject.
I've always fancied the Whitbread myself. Apparently Abdul Abulbul-Amir presents the winner with a case of Best Bitter. The runner-up gets 4 cans of Trophy, "the pint that thinks it's a quart".
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Anyway, I can just about tolerate the existence of bad comedy, but on Monday, 'The Winner's Song' was released as a single. Extensive enquiries have brought forth no indication that the single is a charitable venture. So, it would appear that Channel 4 paid Peter Kay to make a two-hour promo for his own single, the profits from which will be going to buy his mum a bigger garden for her bungalow - I'm told she's got her eye on a little place called Lancashire. If so, am I being hopelessly old-fashioned to think that the whole setup stinks? Even the useless Ofcom must take a dim view of this sort of corruption.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
He gained points a while back, when it emerged that Sir Ben Kingsley was being a bit of a ninny and berating crew members who didn't genuflect in front of him and call him Sir Ben. I contrasted this with the story of a relatively junior crew member approaching Moore, asking how he preferred to be addressed and getting the reply "Call me Rog".
I think that Attenborough minor still just shades it, but the hat is doffed to Rog and his pork pies. Any other GLE nominations?
Friday, October 10, 2008
The other thing that annoys me is reviewers who think they're the main feature rather than a mildly illuminating sideshow. When my first book-shaped thing came out, one reviewer spent roughly half of the article talking about his own life and career before summarising the book dismissively in a couple of paragraphs at the end. Among his more perceptive comments, he said that the book was dense and confusing in places, which it was. It was a dense, confusing subject and, several years on, I'm happy to admit that I bit off a bit more than I could chew (I'm still enormously proud of the book, but I did feel the need to lob in the kitchen sink - I'd write it a bit differently now). However, as an example of density and confusion, he chose to quote a bit that I wrote in a quite deliberately dense and confusing manner (think Danny Kaye doing the vessel with the pestle) to show what a cat's cradle of guff the record industry had become.
Anyway, get yer lovely pre-orders in for the perfect stocking filler here.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Saturday, October 04, 2008
JOLLY GOOD FUN
Bounder! The Biography of Terry-Thomas
By Graham McCann
(Aurum 291pp £16.99)
Alastair Sim: The Star of Scrooge and the Belles of St Trinian's
By Mark Simpson
(The History Press 256pp £18.99)
In the heyday of the British film industry, Terry-Thomas and Alastair Sim made respectable careers playing people who weren't respectable. They played characters who were ‘not quite gentlemen', but in different ways: Terry-Thomas was the embodiment of the player or bounder, while Sim depicted seedy, shabby, failed or faded gentility better than almost anyone else. The near-contemporaries coincided on screen on several occasions, so the appearance of this brace of biographies is serendipitous.
Sim was the elder of the two actors, born in Edinburgh in 1900, the son of a tailor. Terry-Thomas was born Thomas Terry Hoar Stevens eleven years later in Finchley and, despite being merely middle-class, affected a dandyish manner almost from the womb, as a way of blanking out his dreary suburban surroundings and his parents' unhappy union. Both actors achieved their greatest success playing amplified, exaggerated, grotesque versions of their real personalities, but both also had deceptively wide ranges. Sim began on stage as a straight actor before moving into film as a more manic, comic performer than he later became; while T-T was a skilled mimic, something he rarely got a chance to show.
Another thing that Alastair Sim and Terry-Thomas had in common was their work ethic. Sim, who began professional life as an elocution teacher in his native Edinburgh, was a fastidious director even when he wasn't meant to be directing, which caused no end of on-set tensions. T-T's apparent effortlessness and dilettantism masked massive ambition, drive and professionalism, the last of which he expected from his colleagues. Off-duty, however, both are shown by their biographers to have been amusing, charming men.
A populist former Cambridge academic, Graham McCann has spent the last decade or so producing books on film and comedy at a fearsome rate. In contrast, Mark Simpson is making his authorial debut, being a civil servant more used to writing government reports on private finance initiatives. Surprised to find that there had been no proper biography of such a major figure as Sim, Simpson spent the next decade finding out why, the guarded actor having left almost no trace of his seventy-five years apart from his work.
T-T's well-known film work is covered at length in Bounder, but McCann's conceit is to present his subject as the founding father of British television comedy. This is no hyperbole. Between 1949 and 1952, his series How Do You View? practically defined the medium's humorous trajectory. The BBC would have been happy with a simple act show. Instead, T-T, writers Sid Colin and Talbot Rothwell, and producer Bill Ward pushed at the limitations of the medium and paved the way for later shows like Hancock's Half-Hour. Sadly, because no recordings survive, the show’s legacy is all too often overlooked; but its contemporary effect was seismic.
McCann's other achievement is to convey what jolly company and rollicking good fun the real-life T-T must have been. Harry Secombe called him ‘the finest raconteur ever’, and that quality shines through here. No sad clown he. It's impossible not to adore a man who, upon meeting Pablo Picasso, asked the artist if anyone had ever requested ‘a word in your eye’. Unfortunately, the book suffers from a lack of original interview material with colleagues and contemporaries. McCann's excellent earlier books on Morecambe and Wise and Frankie Howerd were leavened liberally by such anecdotes. Apart from occasional observations from Sarah Miles, Jonathan Cecil, Barry Cryer and T-T's cousin Richard Briers, Bounder is mostly a survey – admittedly a very thorough one – of the paper trail left by T-T himself in articles, interviews and BBC contributor files.
In contrast, the privacy-obsessed, interview-shy Sim left no such trail (whatever the question, his standard reply to journalists was ‘I don't know’), so Simpson is to be commended on having found as much material as he has, particularly with regard to the actor's early years. Similarly, Sim's long and fruitful association with the now unfashionable Scots dramatist James Bridie is chronicled well. Simpson has spoken to many who worked with Sim, and their reminiscences help build up a picture of a stubborn, difficult, exacting, but ultimately kind and lovable man. This picture is obscured very occasionally by sloppy editing: cinematographer Otto Heller becomes 'Otto Helier', for example.
Sim's kindness towards young actors and actresses, such as George Cole, has been well documented. Simpson acknowledges the ‘murkiness of innuendo’, wondering whether Sim's privacy obsession did not mask darker impulses. After all, when Sim met his wife Naomi, he was twenty-six, and she was twelve – but the friendship was purely platonic for many years. Although Simpson, unintentionally, makes the waters even murkier in the way he broaches the subject, the answer is ultimately supplied by friends like the child actor-turned-BBC executive John Howard Davies, who testify to Sim's honourable intent.
As you'd expect from a seasoned biographer like Graham McCann, Bounder is pacy. Conversely, Mark Simpson's book can be a little dry in places, which might be the influence of the day job. Alternatively, it might be the subjects themselves imposing their considerable personalities on these welcome books.
Friday, October 03, 2008
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Saturday, September 27, 2008
Monday, September 22, 2008
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Friday, August 22, 2008
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
He was the second person I interviewed for my forthcoming book Turned Out Nice Again. Noel Edmonds was the first, in the morning, at his office in Hammersmith, and when I said who I was seeing in the afternoon, Noel told me to pass on his very best wishes to a gent whom he regarded as "the ultimate showman". Noel was right in his assessment of Sir Bill's showmanship, but he was much more than that. Clever without ever being pretentious, he was the only light entertainment executive in the BBC's history to reach the board of management, where as managing director of the television service, he oversaw the full run of programming. Jim Moir, one of his proteges and a close contender for the best head of LE title, described him as "a very shrewd man, who knew the place and the worth of entertainment in the BBC's hierarchy. He saw the BBC not only as informer and educator, not only in terms of gravitas and journalism, but as an entertainer. He knew its power. I'm not saying the others didn't, but Bill was certainly among the first to articulate the need for it successfully".
Sir Bill was always diplomatically careful to avoid saying that modern TV was ghastly: "What I say can be construed as a bloke who thinks that he’s absolutely marvellous, and nobody knows how to do it now, and all that. You just get yourself kicked to death. Oh, that old fart walking around saying all these things. But the fact is, not only in television, but in so many things in modern life, where there was fun to be had in work, there’s not the same type of fun now. Things are too serious, or are made out to be too serious."
The "hysterical" programme review board meetings were a perfect example of the old sort of fun. The earnest journalists, the power-seeking missiles from Lime Grove would be right at the front of the table, as close to the chairman - the controller of programmes - as possible ("All auditioning," as Bill put it). The LE delegation would be as far from the seat of power as possible, making witty comments and starting paper fights. Meanwhile, head of outside broadcasts Peter Dimmock, shoes off, "used to sit behind, on a couch, doing his in-tray". When he became controller of programmes, Huw Wheldon rearranged the seating: "I want light entertainment sitting here, and outside broadcasts sitting here, then we’ll have one meeting".
The aforementioned Albanian delegation is another example of Sir Bill's idea of behind-the-scenes merriment. In short, over lunch with a few young LE producers, it was decided to wind up Tom Sloan by turning up at the Royal Albert Hall claiming to be a nation who wished to enter the Eurovision Song Contest. With the full might of the BBC wardrobe and make-up departments at their disposal, the trio - Terry Henebery, Roger Ordish and Brian Whitehouse - managed to fool Sloan for a gratifyingly long time. The full, glorious story (and pictorial evidence) is in the book.
The fun had its place, but when it came to making the programmes, he was deadly serious. "Good entertainment is a highly professional business, it requires a lot of experience, a lot of care. You don’t take short cuts." RIP Young Bill.