Saturday, November 15, 2008

The estimable Paul Barnes has been kind enough to ask me on his Saturday evening Gold for Grown-Ups radio show across the BBC Eastern Counties stations tonight, to talk about light entertainment, jazz and other enriching matters. I've been a listener to his show since living in east London nearly a decade ago, when getting any sort of BBC Essex signal involved standing in a zinc bucket with the wireless strapped to my head. Now, of course, the show's available globally on the Internest at He and I are both Oldie contributors, and we've been exchanging emails and telephone calls about our many shared enthusiasms and the state of the nation for a while now, but we've never actually met. I'll be around from 6.20pm onwards.

Friday, November 14, 2008

I've just received the following email:


Dear Customer,

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."
Robert Hanks has reviewed Turned Out Nice Again in the Independent. I'll sort the "numerous factual errors" out for the paperback - there tend to be numerous small factual errors in any first edition. No author or editor can catch every silly little slip, so reader feedback is invaluable, and if you find any howlers, please do let me know at Every reviewer has highlighted omissions, which is fair enough. However, to say "it's perverse to devote pages to The Two Ronnies without mentioning Ronnie Barker's roles in Porridge and Open All Hours" misses the point of the book slightly. Quite apart from the fact that I am perverse, I make it fairly clear in the introduction that the book's about the nebulous concept of variety, rather than narrative comedy. A visit to any bookshop, good or bad, will show that comedy, particularly sitcom, is already super-served by nostalgia tomes. Porridge and Open All Hours are both sitcoms. I could have given them a passing mention, but would that have been anything other than a waste of word count that could have been better deployed elsewhere? Monty Python's Flying Circus didn't make the cut because it came out of the BBC's comedy department, A Bit of Fry and Laurie did because it was made by the variety department. Well, it makes sense to me. It's a shame he didn't like it, as it denies me the opportunity to nick the 'Thanks Hanks' joke from Look Around You.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Another review, this time not for my book, but for Prime Minister, You Wanted to See Me: a history of Week Ending by Ian Greaves and Justin Lewis. Choice quotes from the Chortle critique include "the authors have employed the sensibilities of a trainspotter, and reduced 28 years of radio comedy to a catalogue of dry, passionless statistics", and "It must have taken hours upon hours of tedious research to compile this book, but you can’t help but feel it’s time wasted on something that cannot, surely, be of interest to anybody". Ouch.

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.
"I bet those transvestites are sore at the end of the night" - Apres la Guerre, recalling the night he went on the lash with his mum in Amsterdam. It's a story he's told me before, but I'm very glad he's made it available for public consumption.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

More reviews. One, largely glowing, in the Grauniad from Kit Hesketh-Harvey, whose work with the Widow I've always liked. Another, broadly favourable but concerned about areas I missed, in the Sunday Telegraph from Peter Bazalgette, about whose work I am divided. His part in bringing Big Brother to our screens makes me want to ask him outside for a frank exchange of views, but this transgression is almost counter-balanced by his involvement with the development of Deal or No Deal. Meanwhile, in the November Literary Review, Andrew Barrow calls me "scholarly", but wishes I'd been a bit nastier and says that there's too much Bill Cotton Junior in it. Barrow also asks (as does Kit H-H) who gives a toss about ATV, Associated-Rediffusion and the defunct dinosaurs of early ITV? Well, I do, hence their inclusion. The reviews prove that it's impossible to please everyone, and that, however you write, something that one reader loves, another reader will almost certainly hate. All you can do is write the sort of book you'd want to read yourself, and hope that some other bugger will too.

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

Kim Jong-Il and Gok Wan. You never see them together. Funny that.