Thursday, December 31, 2009

Doing the BBC's work for them

While programmes of dubious merit get trailed to death, I've seen nothing to promote BBC4's repeat of the Faces' 1972 Sounds for Saturday performance. It's on tomorrow - New Year's Day - at 22.50, and having seen clips on various things, I can't wait to see it all the way through. The following cover of 'Maybe I'm Amazed' is from the show and it's just jaw-droppingly fantastic. I love Macca's original, but this tears the song a new arse. Lovely relatively gentle opening vocal from Ronnie Lane before Rod the Mod takes over, and just listen to Kenney Jones, whacking the Ludwigs in a manner that would have made John Bonham doff his cap. It's quite simply the sound of a great band at the top of their game.

Same procedure as last year?

Well, it's New Year's Eve, or as the Germans call it 'Silvester'. A rather endearing Silvester ritual is the tendency of their TV networks to put out a strange little English music hall sketch called Dinner for One (see left for its stranglehold over the New Year's Eve schedules on the regional German stations). I've explained the phenomenon before and offered the whole thing as an XviD AVI file for viewing in the comfort of your own home. As the link's now dead, here it is again, this time in the original monochrome 1963 recording. Happy Hogmanay.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Present tense

Merry festivus everyone. I hope the season brought you everything you desired. Personally, I can't complain. My main presents from Mrs Cheeseford were the Palin diaries volume 2 and Seasonal Suicide Notes by Roger Lewis (the latter of which has just provoked several laughter-fuelled coughing fits in the bath - his footnoted ruminations on the size and purpose of Billie Piper's mouth were particularly joyous) , with the rest of my gift haul being perishable. And that's the way I like it. A couple of years ago, I picked up on Mrs Cheeseford's cogitations on the value of owning a strimmer and bought her one. It has never left its box. Since then, I've bought her port, sherry and confectionery, because I know they will be received with delight and used with joy, and not stuffed in the under-stairs cupboard.

When I was a trade press hack, I became incredibly blase about books. If there was anything that took my fancy, I could probably find a copy under a colleague's desk and swap them one of equivalent value from my pile. Failing that, I could ring a publicist and scrounge one, in return for a commitment to write a diary paragraph on one of their lesser-known wards. I stopped giving books as presents because friends and family knew I'd got them free. Now that I'm forced to pay for literature once again, there are always a couple of titles in the autumn schedules that I know I'll need. I could buy them myself, but I prefer dropping heavy hints from October onwards ("Have you seen the discounts on books in Asda? Disgraceful. Michael Palin's diaries are half-price. £10! Madness.").

I should perhaps mention another book that I received just before Christmas: a copy of 65: My Life So Far by Jonathan King. I'm in the process of writing a review that will hopefully appear in The Oldie. If it doesn't make it over the editor's boredom threshold, I'll post it here. The book itself is overlong, and worth reading with a very sceptical eye, but it's rarely less than interesting. Madame Arcati's already reviewed it at length and had to deal with a shitstorm for not condemning the book and its author utterly. The orthodox view seems to be that "A convicted nonce should not be allowed to write his memoirs. End of." What about unconvicted nonces? Did anyone organise burnings of Stone Alone back in the day or even murmur slight disapproval when Bill Wyman popped up on The One Show recently? I'm really interested in the relative values at work here. In airplay terms, there's a D-notice on Gary Glitter's records, but DJs have no qualms about playing tracks from convicted murderer Phil Spector's Christmas album. Leslie Grantham must be very grateful that he only killed a man, instead of touching up the doomed cabbie's daughter.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

And so we come to the last day of Advent, and the last window on our calendar. A couple of people have wondered aloud whether it is possible to top yesterday's entry, a view with which I have some sympathy. Vincent Price predicting Keith Floyd 15 years before his rise to fame is something to savour. However, while the Vincent Price thing is funny, the clip that follows is funny, utterly adorable and just the thing to spread very welcome tidings of comfort and joy. From Christmas Eve 1961, here are Hattie Jacques, Eric Sykes and Billy Cotton with a little help from a Beverley Sisters record. Merry Christmas, grownups.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Nearly there, and to help us to day 24, we have Vincent Price in comedy mode on the 1970 LWT Christmas spectacular Holiday Startime. Your hostess is Australian person Maggie Fitzgibbon. No, me neither.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

With barely a couple of minutes of day 22 left, it's time to open another window. Through this aperture we are whisked back to the late 1980s and Top of the Pops, but not as we know it. Using a library piece that sounds enough like Paul Hardcastle's 'The Wizard' to get the point across, while at the same time sounding absolutely nothing like it at all, this is the opening of the British Gas Video Unit's attempt to create a pop chart of great inventors, aided by David '(Who are you trying to) Kid' Jensen. The true glory comes when a rather more sober voiceover chap takes over talks of the lasting influence of inventors compared to the "here today, gone tomorrow" impact of pop stars. Up pops a Quantel extravaganza of pop star mugshots. Who, he asks, 20 years on (which is just about now, as it happens) will remember these faces? Yeah, what did happen to Kylie Minogue, Bono and the Pet Shop Boys? If anyone wants to see the rest of this 12-minute edition of Engineering's Not Dull, just say.
Apologies for the delay. Here are the contents of yesterday's window back-dated. It's the Peddlers with an organ shuffle thing called Southern Woman. How does one move like a mustang, exactly? Still, smashing groove.

PS Have this to make up for the delay.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Day 20, and a clip with a personal connection, taken from the 21 February 2001 edition of BBC Breakfast. Tiger Tim Waterstone was threatening to launch a takeover bid for his old company, and, desperate for someone with a bit of book trade nous to fill in the background, reporter Brian Milligan (no relation to Spike, but brother of Stephen) called the offices of Publishing News and asked to speak to chairman and all-round grumpy old sod Fred Newman. Milligan and crew duly turned up and, for some unknown reason, it was agreed that it would be best if Spint (as Fred was known - long story, some of which can be found here) sat on my desk to deliver the piece. So, from about 1:41, you can see a bit of my personalised partition, covered with detritus designed to elicit a chuckle during the darker moments of press day. Just behind Spint's right ear is the Times obituary for Rev Bill Westwood, former Bishop of Peterborough and father of 'urban' music advocate Timothy. If this were in HD, you'd be able to see the rap slang speech bubble that my colleague Ralph Baxter had added to the accompanying picture of the deceased churchman. Then, by Fred's left ear, you can see a masthead from Simon Heffer's Daily Mail column with something obscene or absurd (I forget exactly what, but it looks like a pie of some description) scrawled on it by me or Ralph in a moment of severe vexation with the Tory philosopher. You can also see the luxuriant pube-like thatch of Roger 'Eraserhead' Tagholm bobbing about in the background, no doubt thinking up clever but unfunny punchlines for the diary page. That's no judgment of Rog, who is one of the funniest people I know. It was a sort of challenge among him, me and Ralph to put in the most laboured yet unamusing shite we could think of. My personal best was describing Politico's bookshop as "a home from Douglas-Home". Geddit? No? Good. Love the misspelling of Spintola's name and Tanya Beckett's pay-off, by the way. "A very interesting story, and a very interesting man...indeed. Another interesting man..." [Creak, groan, rictus grin, etc]. We'll be the judges of that, thank you, Tanya, unless you were talking about Fred, in which case, oh yes. A fascinating study.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A double-yolker for day 19, as a result of YouTube's 10-minute limit. From the 23 December 1986 edition of Des O'Connor Tonight, here's a bit of Burly Chassis. Clip 1 is her opening song. Clip 2 is a brief interview segment, then her second song. The interview takes place at a bar, from behind which pops fellow guest...well, just watch it. The plan was obviously to create one of those unpredictable moments that people talk about years later (doubtless this bit would feature in the trailers if the programme were being made now), but you can't create unpredictability. Nonetheless, Des doubles up and pisses himself gamely. I can only assume that it's genuine amusement or an act of kindness rather than des-peration. You are permitted to chortle at the cocktail, but that's all.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Day 18: at some point over the festivities, Two Way Stretch will be watched, as recorded at some point during Christmas 1994. Never mind your Carry Ons or your Ealing comedies, this is the apex of the British comedy film, and it was a favourite of mine and my mate Stephen Evens during our shared drab suburban adolescence. Even if the plot and script weren't absolutely first-rate, which they are, the presence of Bernard Cribbins, Beryl Reid, Liz Fraser, Irene "You're obviously mistaking me for an actress who gives a fuck*" Handl, David "I'm Dave Lodge, I was in Cockleshell Heroes" Lodge, Thorley Walters, George Woodbridge, Mario Fabrizi, Maurice Denham and just about all the greats would see you through. Lionel Jeffries is the man of the match, though. It takes a true great to outshine Peter Sellers on peak form, and he did it. Yes, he was superb as the Marquess of Queensberry, but Prison Officer Sidney 'Sour' Crout is his finest moment in a career of distinction. Oh, and it has the best theme/opening titles combo of any British comedy film ever. Ken Jones, we salute you.

* Apologies for mangling the quote. The full story is explained in the accompanying comments, and it's a corker.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

And on day 17, Paul Daniels made a studio camera disappear.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Now, I'm a massive Vic and Bob fan and, for day 16, we visit Hull's premier nightspot for a date with Mandate. The series this came from, Bang Bang It's Reeves and Mortimer, seems to get overlooked when Vic and Bob's career is being considered, but elements of it are, for me, the best work they've ever done. Not least the spoof docu-soap, The Club. All of The Club was great, but I think this might be the peak of the run, at least in terms of quotability. The presents from the staff sergeant ("many of them gold"), the romantic links with celebrities ("I am shortly to be married to DCI Jane Tennison of Primal Scream"), Kinky John Fowler extolling the virtues of his boyband proteges ("I swear on my neck...and lips..."), and the revelation that Paul Baron, the Tesco Value Stringfellow, was never really in the SAS, but was really a slipshod "wepairman for Wediffusion - he use shoddy cables...". Unlike Paul Baron's jewellery, gold-plated at Timpson's ("and I have to say the tolerances are absolutely minimal"), this is real comedy gold.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Day 15 and we find ourselves rushing back to the Jazz 625 cupboard. This clip never fails to live up to the title of the tune they're playing. Benny Golson's still above the ground and active, but Alan Branscombe (on piano here, but equally at home on just about any instrument you cared to thrust into his hands), guitarist Dave Goldberg and the wonderful Tubby Hayes all went long before their time was due. Superb support on drums from Allan Ganley, another much-missed figure. I was too young to ever meet Branscombe, Goldberg or Hayes, but I met Allan on a couple of occasions, the last being at a jazz festival in Guernsey where I sat about 6 feet from him and watched his playing like a percussion-mad hawk.

Monday, December 14, 2009

For day 14, it's a south-western puppet rabbit, with music by Ed Welch.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

On the 13th day, Erroll Garner made his bassist & drummer play a guessing game about when the tune was going to start. He did this a lot. It was one of the things that made him fab. This clip comes from the second of Garner's appearances on Jazz 625, repeated on BBC2 in 1985, and recorded by me on a JVC E-180, which I treasured until I found a DVD of both shows on sale in New York a few years back. Enough of my yakkin'...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

For day 12, we return to the stage of the BBC Television Theatre at the height of Beatlemania (10 May 1964, to be precise). In charge, at centre stage, Billy Cotton. Enter stage left, Terence Alan Milligan with a jam jar of She Loves You and a deluxe Merseybeat wig. Comedy ensues, as does jazz, with Spike showing what a handy trumpeter he was, while making a prize nana out of poor old Bill Herbert on the banjo.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Meanwhile for day 11, it's the door to my study.


Separated by the Burston School Strike commemorative tea towel (my great-great aunt was one of the children who went on strike in that historic dispute) are two TV-related thingies. The '/B/B/C/ /tv/ colour' replica camera plate is obvious, the other less so. Let's take a closer look, shall we?


I know what it is and where it came from. Do you?
Playing catch-up again, here's day 10:

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Day 8. A BBC2 junction from 1987. This is not as random as it might seem.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Day 7. Back when I was a student at Lancaster, a freak of geography meant that from the university campus, the Moel-y-Parc (BBC Wales/HTV/S4C) transmitter was line of sight while Winter Hill and its Lancaster relay (From the North - Granada, etc) were obscured by hills. So, if we wanted to watch TV illegally in our rooms, it was Welsh telly. In its earliest days, before the advent of TWW and Teledu Cymru, Granada made programmes for a Welsh language audience, reflecting the fact that most of north Wales is technically a Liverpool suburb. This is the ident they used.

The story of how a now-prominent sports lobbyist and I plotted to liberate the giant Granada G-arrow sign from outside the White Cross building will have to wait for another day...

Sunday, December 06, 2009

More music for day 6, this time from a 1962 Ted Heath spectacular, featuring Ronnie Verrell (left of picture and left of sound field) and Kenny Clare (on the right) in a friendly sort of drum battle. Two drum heroes for the price of one. Can't be bad. The performance was mimed to the version used on the Decca Phase 4 Stereo album Big Band Percussion, so I've taken the liberty of replacing the lo-fi mono soundtrack from the telerecording with the audio from the original stereo LP. Also visible are numerous percussionists including Stan Barrett and Barry Morgan, not to mention bassist Johnny 'Salute to Thames' Hawksworth and guitarist Ike Isaacs. I can't place the ocarina player, though. Any guidance gratefully accepted. The spiffing arrangement is by Johnny Keating. I fear we might be peaking too soon, but what the hell...

Saturday, December 05, 2009

A musical interlude for day 5, courtesy of the Dudley Moore Trio. This selection, called Song for Suzy, is in honour of Roman Empress who Twittered about how much she was enjoying this advent calendar, and the Baker/Worthington alternative.

Friday, December 04, 2009

For day 4, we cross the herring pond and commune with director Stan Freberg and actor Jesse White for an alternative to nicotine patches. I realise that I could, quite happily, fill the days before Christmas with strange little Freberg ads, but I'll try and keep things varied. Thanks to Posie Flump, whose tape this comes from, and to whom I really need to send the disc transfer I did for him, along with the bonus Time for Beany episodes I've put on it.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

For day 3 of the advent calendar we return to state-of-the-art 1963 visual effects for the sight and sound of Millicent Martin duetting with herself on the final That Was the Week That Was. Anyone not cheered by the presence of Willie Rushton at the start of this clip is not human.

Playing catch-up, day 2 on the advent calendar brings a VT clock from a 1964 Big Night Out featuring Mike and Bernie Winters. Uncharitable souls have suggested that the VT clock was the most entertaining part of the show.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Despite not feeling particularly festive, a tradition's a tradition, so here's the first window on this years Cheeseford Virtual Archive TV Advent Calendar. For the last few years, Nigel Lythgoe - ex-Young Generation dancer, turned choreographer and producer - has been living and working in the US, most recently on a show called So You Think You Can Dance? He courted controversy when he expressed his reservations about seeing a pair of gents dancing with each other Fred and Ginger style. In certain quarters, this would have been bad enough, but he made matters worse by describing the all-male act as "Brokeback Ballroom" on his Twitter feed. The furore led to accusations of homophobia on Lythgoe's part. Tish and pish. This excerpt from a 1984 Central TV Christmas tape shows a young Lythgoe and what looks like Eurovision winner Johnny Logan camping it up something rotten. Obviously, neither gent is gay, but both are clearly happy to be identified as friends of the family.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

So, Ian Hart remonstrating with a 'disruptive' audience member was understandable, was it? I prefer Sir John Gielgud's approach, which was to rise above it and press on. At one point in the 1950s, the great actor found himself working with a young man heavily in the thrall of Pinter. It might even have been Pinter himself, I'm not entirely sure. After an epic pause, the kindly Gielgud asked the young thesp a question: "Dear boy, why are you leaving these enormous pauses?". The young chap replied that it was all the rage at RADA now. Gielgud's reply was majestic. "It's nothing new, dear boy. I went through a similar phase myself until one night when, in the middle of a lengthy, dramatic pause, I heard from the stalls a cry of 'You horrible beast, you've just come all over my umbrella'." I wonder how Ian Hart would have dealt with that one?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sitting in Humanities 2 at the British Library, wrestling with a pile of Radiotimes bound volumes in the interests of research, a programme billing from April 1979 leapt out at me. "8.10pm - Accident. A drama series in eight episodes. In the confusion of a road accident ten lives are mixed in a jig-saw of past and present." If you ever wondered what Anthony Horowitz was watching on Wednesday nights 30 years ago, now you know.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

I've just taken a momentous decision. When my current stock of blank minidiscs is exhausted, I'm going to buy one of those new flash drive-based digital audio recorders - a Zoom or a Tascam of some description. There are 18 shrink-wrapped discs on the shelf in front of me, and a couple of part-used discs with over an hour of recording time in mono mode left, should I need them. I reckon those 18 discs should allow me to do all the interviews I need for the book I'm currently working on (very slowly, but I've just started to regain a tiny bit of momentum after the events of what Americans would call 9/24, thanks for asking). I have three working portable minidisc machines (one of which has power issues when using the internal battery, which means I've got to search for the nasty, plasticky screw-on gewgaw that enables the user to shove in a bog-standard AA - I could be gone some time. It's a Sony, whereas the brace of Sharps have a built in AA compartment, just one of many reasons why the Sharp portables were so much better than the Sonys), and a small family of stereo condenser microphones, and I'm hoping they'll see me through this project as well. I reached the conclusion when I was thinking "Have I got enough blanks left?" earlier. I was on the verge of buying another 10 from an Amazon Marketplace seller for just under a tenner, when I thought "I'm going to have to move on sooner or later, and this tenner is 1/15 of the cost of a spanking new machine that will allow me to transfer the audio to my computer losslessly and not in real time. What a world that would be. Best hold fire, then". Memories of clearing out my local Aldi's stock of bargain BASF 8mm video cassettes immediately before my 8mm camcorder breathed its last also popped into my mind. Why not get a super zippy modern doodah now? Until I finish this book, any money coming into schloss Cheeseford is earmarked for luxuries like bread and shoes. That's a good gag. I wonder who came up with it?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Memo to BBC News and other media outlets: Celebrity has very mild disagreement with mildly critical fan is not a major story. However, a few people have said to me "Come now, it's not Stephen Fry's fault that the BBC has over-reacted in this way". It is, though. Fry has made such a big deal of Twitter, to the point that I would describe him as a shill if I didn't love him and his work so much. He's created the interest. A (hopefully temporarily) depressed Fry reacted badly to an observation that seems to me to be on the mild side of fair comment. However, the trouble is that a man of his intelligence can't not have known that his loyal followers would react in the way that they did, which reflects badly on him. He would also have had a fairly shrewd idea that it would be picked up by the media, if not of the undue prominence they gave it. To be fair, though, depression is the enemy of rational thought.

Still, it's all been dealt with now, with Fry admitting to feeling foolish. Well, yes. Come here you big lummox and have a cuddle. If there is a story left to report, it's the unpleasant reaction of Alan Davies. One Twitterer sent a message to Fry saying "@stephenfry Please don't be a grumpytrousers. You're much-loved - go get yourself a non-cyber hug immediately". Davies reacted to the whole business with "Anyone who thinks that @stephenfry could even fabricate a toss about anything @brumplum or any such moron says ought to stop worrying". The 'grumpytrousers' poster tackled Davies (hopefully while wearing ear protection) with "There's no need to be offensive. @brumplum said he adored @stephenfry but his tweets could be a bit dull. That's not moronic". Davies hit back with "yes it is moronic, you should know , being a moron yourself". From there, it escalated, with Davies calling everyone who dared to pass comment a 'moron', 'tosser', 'halfwit', 'dickhead', 'idiotic' or a 'prat', clearly unaware that he was confirming his own idiotic comic persona by doing so. Finally, Davies concluded that "Anyone has a pop at your mates you stick up for them.Twittr needs to be more like Essex.If you wouldn't say it to their face then do shut up". Which bit of Essex, Alan? Dedham Vale on a tranquil Sunday or Basildon on a Saturday night? Fry has apologised to brumplum for all of the abuse he's received. He should now have a quiet, schoolmasterly word with Davies, who has been one of the principal abusers.

Davies, in his ham-fisted and oafish* way, does make an interesting point. I've never said anything online I wouldn't say to someone's face, but some find it easy to hide behind a persona and be the fearless fighter that they wouldn't dare be in real life. Tools like Twitter create an artificial intimacy between fans and celebrities, and when you are intimate with someone, you feel able to say whatever you like to them. This started mildly, and ended in the same way. The next time a fan criticises their hero on a social networking site, it might not be so seemly. A celebrity might 'follow' you and might reply to your messages occasionally. However, you do not know them. They do not know you. Proceed accordingly. Celebrities too have a responsibility to make the ground rules clear.

I'm trying to think of an historical equivalent, but I can't. It's a product of the technology. In 1978, Stan Boardman didn't ring everyone up to call them a cunt when Tom O'Connor went ex-directory. Welcome to the modern world.

* EDIT - 21/2/2010 - I've substituted 'oafish' for the original, stronger description of Davies' manner, as Davies is now Twittering about "libellous blogging". The original term was, I believe, defensible as fair comment, but defending it on those grounds would take more time and effort than I'm prepared to put in. I've also removed a couple of comments, which, while true, also come under the heading of "can I really be arsed?".

Saturday, October 31, 2009

I'm all in favour of collective bargaining, and can understand the principles behind the Royal Mail dispute. However, isn't striking at the height of a recession to maintain existing working terms, when countless thousands of jobless would happily accept the inferior terms on offer, bordering on the suicidal?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

When so many high-profile child abuse cases are in the news, it's sometimes hard for one to stand out, but this one manages it. Being so used to reading and hearing of terrible acts of inhumanity, I find my visceral reactions to situations like these increasingly rare. Rationally and logically, I abhor and condemn the acts, but it takes a lot to make me feel physically sick, as I did reading that report.

And yet in that terrible catalogue of events, there is a glimmer of hope, decency and humanity. The mother of one of the victims is quoted as saying: "[F]or those involved in paedophile behaviour to identify it in themselves and know where to seek help, society must be prepared to discuss this issue. We need to allow an openness within society of where to seek help, just as alcoholics go to AA and gamblers go to GA. Clearly the protection of children must take precedence, but if individuals could have been stopped or deterred, we as a family may not have found ourselves in this situation."

I think this might be the bravest thing that anyone in the public eye has said for quite some time. Prevention is always better than cure, and prevention need not mean the extermination of all paedophiles or bricks through windows. Unfortunately, we won't know what it does mean until we have the openness that this mother requests, and are able to find out exactly what compels paedophiles. Only then can the problem be managed effectively. If this were being said by a social worker or someone else with a need to maintain professional detachment, it would be easy for the 'condemn first, don't bother to ask questions later' lobby to dismiss. However, it's coming from a woman whose child was subjected to vile, awful acts of abuse by men she trusted to care for her child. Everybody should be listening to her right now.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Just seen some rough clips on BBC News. Dimbleby on stunning form. First question about the BNP's adoption of Churchill. Griffin concludes his case for Churchill's natural home being in the BNP with a snide dig at Jack Straw, talking about his own father's WW2 service versus Straw's father being a conchie. Dimbleby - nobody's idea of a Trot - straight in: "What relevance does that have on the question?" (doubtless thinking "If you want to play that game, matey, my father was one of the first Allied personnel into Belsen after the liberation"). Griffin restates the slur. Dimbleby restates the question. Clip cuts off. Later, Griffin responds to suggestions that he said "Thank you, Auntie" with a statement that he doesn't regard the BBC as Auntie, but instead as part of "nasty, ultra-leftist establishment" that is the enemy of Englishness. The response is pure tumbleweed. If the clips are representative, Griffin gets hung out to dry in the fairest possible manner. The British way, if you like.
Roll up for the first must-see Question Time since Ian Hislop ripped Mary Archer a new arsehole in 2002. As a man of the left, I have to say that Peter Hain's posturing has done nobody on the liberal side of the equation any favours. I suppose the protest had to be made, in full knowledge that it would be rejected by the BBC Trust, and I'm just grateful that it was made by the risible Hain rather than anybody I respect. Attempting to silence the enemies of understanding aids their cause (which can also be taken as a comment on the Jan Moir situation).

Whatever happens, it'll be interesting. If sparks fly, it'll be worth seeing whence they come and where they go. If it's dull and polite, that will be interesting in itself, as it's the least likely outcome. I'll be there with popcorn, a tumbler of something cheering and a big pile of cushions to throw at the TV.

For what it's worth, Griffin got a laugh out of me on the radio news the other day, defending the party's decision to use images of a Supermarine Spitfire on its literature. Some said it was an attempt to ally the BNP with our brave boys and girls in the public perception. Griffin said it was merely an emblem of the defeat of European dictatorships. What, Nick? Fascist dictatorships, you mean? The biggest laugh of all, however, came when it was reported that the pictured Spitfire was from the RAF's celebrated 303 Squadron. That was the one composed entirely of the immigrant Polish airmen who came over to our side just before the Nazis occupied France.

UPDATE: Another laugh. After years at Teddington, TV Burp is now recorded at BBC Television Centre, and this week's is being done tonight at roughly the same time as The Jack and Shite Minstrel Show. Question Time is good, but so's TV Burp. Which is better? There's only one way to find out...

Monday, October 19, 2009

So farewell, then, Ludovic Kennedy. Quite apart from being a television heavyweight from the golden age of current affairs, he was also a campaigning, crusading man of principle, whose book 10 Rillington Place led pretty much directly to the pardoning of Timothy Evans. He could do funny too, as his cameo in Yes Minister and his partnership with Peter Cook on A Life in Pieces proved.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

This still hasn't turned up, and I'm starting to worry slightly.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Who's the callow youth with the lovely Cleo Rocos' arms draped around him? Its me, over a decade ago, in my early days as a hack on Publishing News, at the launch of her book Bananas Forever. Tony Mulliken of Midas PR was masterminding the publicity for the book, and, in an unguarded moment, I let slip to him my enormous regard for the late Maurice Cole and my profound love for his glamorous sidekick. Tony took great delight in introducing me to my heroine, who turned out to be every bit as smashing and pleasant as you'd expect. Although I was covering the launch for PN's diary column, and was thus expected to merge into the background (as if that were possible with a foghorn voice like mine) and note down vaguely amusing occurrences, as well as taking pictures, rather than appearing in them. Tony, being Tony, however, said something like "Oi, make love to the camera, the pair of you", at which she flung her arms around me, while I tried not to look like someone who'd just been grabbed bodily by a woman he'd quietly adored for years. Anyway, I found it on an old hard drive the other day and thought it would be fun to share. I know it's the visual equivalent of an appalling name-drop, but it cheered me up when I saw it. I bumped into Cleo on several occasions after this at various launches and beanos, not to mention wandering around Fitzrovia, where I worked and I believe she lived, and she always made a point of saying hello. She was then and, I suspect, still is, just a delightful person.
Note well, I will be on BBC Radio Norfolk this afternoon just after 2pm, talking archive TV with the excellent Stephen Bumfrey, talking being the one thing I can still do largely unhindered. Broadcasting under the influence of co-codamol. Hmmm, let's see how that works. Anyway, the whole affair is part of my campaign to take over whatever fragments of the frequency spectrum Iain Dale isn't using at any given time. Today, Radio Norfolk. Tomorrow, the worl...ah, more likely Radio Suffolk. Still, it's a start.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ben Miller's Radio 2 thing about Benny Hill is in my current queue of things to be listened to, and it will be interesting to see how it views Hill's demise. The more I think about it, especially since a particularly thought provoking email on the subject from Matt Rudd, his worst crime was sticking with producer Dennis Kirkland for so long. Dennis was the perfect producer for him at one time, but not by 1989. I met Dennis once, and liked him enormously, but by the end of their association, his idea of what Hill should be doing had become outmoded. His continued belief in its validity can be seen in the shows he made at Central in the mid-1990s with Freddie Starr, which are latter-day Benny Hill shows in all but name.

I don't think it's madness to suggest that someone like Geoff Posner or Alan Nixon could have taken over and reinvented him. He was still a very capable comic performer, let down simply by material and format. The main sticking point would have been Hill's neediness. Throughout his career, he needed reassurance and molly-coddling from his producers. According to Brian Tesler, studio tapes of Hill's early shows are notable for the number of times when Hill stops and calls out for Philip Jones. The likes of Posner and Nixon would have understood and been able to supply that level of care, undoubtedly, but whether Hill would have trusted them is another matter. It's an imponderable that nonetheless remains worth pondering.

Of course, had he lived even five years longer he'd have had the full wanky student ironic veneration treatment, for what that's worth. Let's not forget, though, his best stuff - the BBC shows and the earlier Thames shows - is top-notch TV comedy.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

There's a slightly strange sub-plot to all this arm business. Pretty much everybody who's examined me at close quarters over the last fortnight or so, has observed what splendid working order the rest of me is in. This morning, a very nice physiotherapist reassured me that my good arm was so flexible that, when fully healed, even with a reduced range of motion, my right arm should be not that far off most people's range of motion. This specialist in the hospital offered me stronger painkillers, expressing amazement that I was chugging along on the mild ones. I am lead, therefore, to conclude that I am a strong and healthy person.

Why, then, did the Neanderthal cunts who taught PE at school spend my formative years telling me I wasn't, just because I couldn't get excited about kicking a ball around? I wasn't lazy, I wasn't averse to exercise. By the time I was in the 4th form, I was cycling the 8-mile round trip to and from school daily on my 10-speed Falcon Rapier (or Falcon Rapist, as it inevitably became known). I just couldn't see the point in what they were offering. If they told me to put on hiking boots rather than football boots, and let me go walking for the duration of the games period, I'd have been out of their hair and getting good valuable exercise in a manner that did not seem wholly futile.

I can only hope that physical education in schools has changed for the better in the intervening 20-25 years.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

About a year ago, I was approached by a chap from Faber and Faber called John Grindrod, asking if I'd contribute a few hundred words on just about anything to an anthology he was editing called Shouting at the Telly. We e-mailed back and forth, and discovered that we had a lot in common, from favourite television programmes to mutual ex-colleagues, so the decision was pretty easy. I got on one of my favourite hobby horses and did a piece about ITV start-up sequences and continuity.

Last week, when most urgently in need of a boost, a finished copy of the book arrived in the morning post. Some of the contributors are more enjoyable than others, but I'm happy to admit that Sam Delaney has made me reconsider the unfavourable impression I got from him as a talking head on various clip shows, by turning in a couple of very funny articles. His feverish nightmares of being kidnapped and fed chalk by Carol Hersee and her clownish henchman were the turning point for my perceptions of him. Unfortunately, another prominent contributor fails to confound my expectations. Boyd Hilton, TV editor of Heat magazine, lists the 10 sitcoms to which he is most addicted, but does so in a bland, 'this'll do' manner at odds with most of the rest of the book - everyone else seems to relish and seize the freedom and spirit of the project. Also, with the exception of Rhoda, his 10 choices seem to come straight from those spurious polls that proliferate now.

Back to the highlights: a nice piece by Jonathan Carter about sitcom neighbours, with a foreseeable, but still enjoyable, twist; Christien Haywood's fantastic and utterly unreliable account of the development of Knight Rider; Kevin Eldon's memories of ray-gun deaths in Orlando; Susan le Baigue being utterly right and very amusing about property programmes and their responsibility for the economic shitstorm; Richard Herring's post-doctoral thesis on Goodnight Sweetheart; an affectionate and broadly unassailable assessment of Upstairs Downstairs from Andrew Collins; theme tune writer Daniel Pemberton on classic theme tunes; Framley-type Robin Halstead on Christmas television; belting efforts from Ian Jones and Steve Williams of that TV Cream; and all of Grindrod's own warm, funny linking material, particularly the story of how he chose an ad break in Taggart as the moment to come out as gay to his parents, outlining the impeccable logic involved.

The contributors were paid a flat fee, and so I gain nothing by recommending it as an ideal stocking-filler, which it is. It will be in the shops from early November. My fine words also appear in the latest issue of the Kettering, the magazine of elderly British comedy. I am assured that my copy is in the post, and I can't bloody wait.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Re: the Letterman business. Is any of this news to anyone who's watched any Larry Sanders? Dave earns points by responding to blackmail with honesty, nay shamelessness. It's the only way.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

A CD reissue of Ivory Cutlery's 'Privilege' arrives in the post. I think the Oldie wants my honest opinion. I know I'll love it.

The op went well, thanks to the expertise of the consultants at the James Paget in Gorleston. Thankfully, they waited until afterwards to explain just how serious my injury had been. My elbow joint had been crushed by the impact, turning it from a nice big sphere to a bag of much smaller marbles. The humerus had snapped like a stick of celery, and the CT scan images were pretty grim. It's all now held together in a very close approximation of its original form with plates, screws, pins and wires. The rest is down to nature and some pretty hardcore physiotherapy, both of which take time. However, I am now pretty confident that I'll be restored to full health eventually. I'm a natural rebel, but I know when orders need to be heeded. Anyway, I won't mope about it here any longer. As you were...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The other day, I did something I haven't done for ages. I read the Guardian. In it was a long article by a Guardian hack about how he had revolutionised his life and electricity bills by switching entirely to low-energy light bulbs over the last six months. Maybe I was in a bad mood when I read the article, but there seemed to be an overwhelming air of "aren't I great?" sanctimony about the whole affair, with this chap clearly regarding himself as some kind of frontiersman.

I am not a journalist for the nation's most environmentally minded newspaper, and yet Schloss Cheeseford has been equipped from basement to attic with low-energy bulbs for the last 13 years (with the last 1996 original only just having come out of service). Given that they cost over a tenner apiece when I began my own energy-saving crusade, I think I'd be able to write a better (and more sanctimonious) article about the wonder of CFLs than some Johnny-come-lately who waited until they were 50p a go, and who seems to have more light sources in his modest townhouse than Pinewood Studios. However, I know that if I'd pitched just such an article, I'd have been lucky to receive a polite rejection note. So, how do these people get these dull, obvious articles commissioned? Compromising negatives of the commissioning editor? Being able to call the commissioning editor Dad? What ever it is, I don't got it.

What I do got is a fractured distal humerus, my Grauniad reading having been something I did to pass the time in hospital. I go back in on Tuesday to have some fairly serious ironmongery inserted into my arm. Cruelly, it was my right arm, so typing is out of the question, and I find myself dictating this painfully slowly into a computer that throws up interesting alternatives for the words that I thought I said. Knowing my luck, I will now be deluged with commissions that I am unable to fulfil. I am now off to buy some incandescent bulbs which am going to leave on all of the time. So there.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Justin Lee Collins says that Brucie should step down from hosting Strictly Come Dancing. He's right.

There should always be a space for Brucie on British television, but it shouldn't necessarily be a weekly live show that usually runs for over an hour. When he was on the Gen Game, he was the best ringmaster TV's ever had - watch those old recordings and you'll see a man in complete control of his domain, making sure that hapless punters hit their marks and get the laughs. The Equity strike-bound Sunday Night at the London Palladium featuring just him and Norman Wisdom is a breathless masterclass in entertainment, and I speak as someone for whom a little Wisdom goes a very very long way. Unfortunately, I can't watch Strictly without thinking "Oh, Bruce, no" far too many times for my own good.

As in so many things, Wogan leads the way. He's going from the Radio 2 breakfast show on his own terms, with ratings higher than ever, and with the grace to wish his successor the very best. I think the experience of his BBC1 chat show still haunts him - he overstayed his welcome there and had to take a lot of flak from the press as a result. Live and learn. He also stepped down from the Eurovision Song Contest on an apparent point of principle, with honour intact. Despite being one of his greatest fans, I sensed him descending further into self-parody year by year, and am glad he got out when he did. The only downer there was that the commentary job didn't go to Paddy O'Connell, who gets Eurosong utterly and would have been great, but I have to admit that my dire predictions for Graham Norton's commentary didn't come to pass, and the whole experience began an unlikely rehabilitation of Norton, compounded by his pitch-perfect 'one foot in the grave' dig at Michael McIntyre on BAFTA night.

As I type, a solution has occurred to me. Make Forsyth one of the judges. He'd be there and he could bring his full experience to bear on the situation, but he wouldn't have to carry the whole show. Failing that, just shove him in TC1 with a piano, an orchestra, Tarby, Lynchy, some chairs, some tap shoes and an audience. Agreeing with Justin Lee Collins is slightly annoying, by the way. I hear from people in the industry that he's a sweetie, and that's nice to know, but it doesn't stop me thinking that he should step down from television.

Monday, September 21, 2009

On Facebook, a friend of mine was musing about the cost of certain items in certain high street stores. Knowing him to be a man of sense, I expressed amazement that he bothered with the high street for anything anymore. I bought both of my computers online - the desktop machine I'm typing this on now was two-thirds of the price of an identical unit in PC World, while the laptop came from PC World's website, and was an exclusive online offer. I get through a lot of blank DVDs, and am consistently astonished at the price high street stores expect me to pay. My DVD recorder came from, and was half the price of the same unit anywhere else. A while back, I needed a replacement mini-jack for my headphones. Maplin wanted £2.99, for which price I could get 5 of the buggers from a chap on eBay. Finally, as one of the few people left still using a fountain pen (I think it's just me and my GP), I've been wondering why you can get green and purple Parker cartridges on the continent but not in Britain. Answer - you can get them here, if you go to the Battersea Pen Home. If you have a credit card, a computer and a willingness to wait a couple of days for the stuff to arrive, buying online is the way forward.

Of course, there are some things that money can't buy (mainly because they're crap), and in my journalistic career, I've amassed a fair few of them. Promotional mugs seem to proliferate - a recent purge of the cupboard brought forth a green one for 30 years of Picador books, a black 'Wake up and smell the coffee' one for Bloomsbury's Encarta dictionary, and a rather nice bone china one extolling the virtues of Sutton Publishing's historical titles. Having amassed enough pleasing non-promotional drinking vessels, including a repro White Star Line Titanic-era 3rd class mug and a superb 'Yorkshire Television Colour Production' mug hand made by my good friend Marcus Bernard of TV Ark, the publishing freebies are going to the charity shop, even 'Wake up and smell Nigel Newton's bank balance'. This has, however, set me to wondering what was the best freebie I've ever received? On balance, it's probably the Pure Evoke 1 digital radio in the kitchen, given to selected hacks in the glory days of Oneword, although the Weidenfeld and Nicolson 50th anniversary anthology that I got signed by both Lord Weidenfeld and Nigel Nicolson is a keeper, as is the t-shirt promoting my mate Andy Miller's book Tilting at Windmills (Slogan: "A hollow victory is still a victory"), even though it has never ever fit me. Does anyone else have good free stuff to declare?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

This blog has a new crusade. It is to get every right-thinking person with an Internet connection to pass critical comment on the strange-looking, dull-sounding Chris de Burgh. This isn't unpleasantness for unpleasantness' sake. The idea is to get the multi-talentless cousin of Roly Mo writing so many letters and emails accusing people of being 'bitter and unfulfilled' that he never sings a single hemi-demi-semi-quaver again in his life. Go on, you know it makes sense.

Oi, Chris. Your music's shit and you look like the badger world's most notorious nonce.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

How not to respond to a bad review: Writing a letter to the reviewer, calling them 'bitter and unfulfilled' and inventing childish names. Like Chris de Burgh just has. Hasn't the stumpy peddler of mediocrity got enough money not to give a tinker's cuss what anyone thinks of him? Also, does he not realise that this very act shows him to be 'bitter and unfulfilled' himself? Why else would a multi-million selling artist need the validation of a newspaper critic? Is it because he knows he's NBG? Finally, referring to the reviewer, Peter Crawley, as 'Creepy Crawley' is a bit rich coming from one of the most sinister-looking creatures in the pop business.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Normally I have no interest in the comings and goings of Jack Tweed, but I found myself reading The Snu the other day and puzzling over a detail of the report of his arrest. Tweed has been charged with rape, but his co-accused has not. The paper described the sexual activity involved as a "roasting". Now, I have no practical experience of said manoeuvre, but my understanding of it is that it involves two gentlemen partaking equally of a lady's pleasures, one at each end. Not being a lawyer, I don't know how this works, but if it was rape, shouldn't both men have been charged? Can anyone explain to me why Tweed has been and his mate hasn't?

Saturday, September 05, 2009

For a couple of years or so, the bookshelf above my monitor has had an A5 envelope poked between the paperbacks, containing various items of correspondence. The content is nothing stunning or revelatory, but they're things I'd like to keep safe all the same. With this in mind, I've been eyeing them up for ages thinking "Must put that envelope away somewhere". So I did, and now I can't find it. It's not too much of a worry, as I know that the moment I stop looking for it, it'll turn up. That happened last week with a tape recorder manual. Shortly after locating a PDF on the Internet, I found my yellowing hard copy. If I weren't so dismissive of such things, I'd blame a playful spirit.

Friday, September 04, 2009

So farewell then, Keith Waterhouse. While I find his later novels near-unreadable, I've always had a soft spot for his earlier work, and he was one of the few good things in the Daily Mail. Apart from which, how could one not love a human being who so clearly set out to resemble a spaniel?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Sad news indeed about Simon Dee. I made contact with him when I was researching Turned Out Nice Again and I have a couple of very cordial letters from him. Sadly, I was already about a year late with the manuscript when I found him, and I never did make it to Winchester. Fortunately, I had plenty of background on his chat show years from producers and executives, and I tried to be as fair as I could. I had to note their comments that he was a bloody nightmare to work with, but I also had to make clear his importance in the history of the chat show - in UK terms, Dee and Eamonn Andrews laid the foundations - and also to give praise where it was due. On his day, he was a good interviewer - someone who listened and engaged his brain accordingly, but who also had the chutzpah to ask the apparently unaskable. Unfortunately, he seemed to believe his own publicity, and, I suspect, also suffered from bad management. As a result, he alienated the people he needed most, and in later life seemed more inclined to blame a nebulous conspiracy for his downfall, rather than his own hubris. As Bill Cotton said "There was a time when he was a very powerful force on British television and he could have gone anywhere. But he was just a bloody fool". Indeed, but his show was one where magic sometimes happened, and I make no apologies for reminding you all of this from the 21 September 1968 Dee Time:

Monday, August 31, 2009

All too often nowadays, I put down a newspaper having concluded that its writers know little and care even less about the subjects of their articles. I want authoritative voices, not some 'will this do?' chancer who's cribbed the lot off Wikipedia. I'm not entirely sure if it's them or me: was it always this way, and I only notice it now because I'm better informed?

One of my pitifully few must-reads is James May's column in the Daily Telegraph each Saturday. While Jeremy Clarkson's in the Sunday Times telling its readers how he'd run the world (and making many of them profoundly glad that he isn't) and the Hamster's set up his wheel in the Daily Mirror, May ploughs his own wildly meandering furrow in the Torygraph. Despite being in the Motoring section, May's rambles frequently have only the slenderest connection to cars. Very often, only the last paragraph even mentions motoring, in a manner that just about connects with the preceding few hundred words. And that, dear reader, is the joy of the exercise. Rather audaciously, May uses his platform to explore subjects that interest him, including trains, music and the contents of his kitchen cupboard. It's a weekly visit to the mind of an agreeably anoraky middle-aged chap who actually knows stuff and gives a toss about it, so, as an anorak nearing middle age, is it any wonder that I'm a fan?

When May appeared on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, the host, jokingly, said that he hoped never to be trapped in a lift with May. Given Ross' own well-documented geek credentials, I thought the remark, even in jest, was beneath him. I'd rather be trapped in a pub (as can happen at high tide in the White Cross in Richmond) with May, but if it came down to it, I suspect time stuck in a lift with him would pass most pleasantly. In this cynical, jaded age, May is an enthusiast, and a pretty good standard-bearer for enthusiasts of all kinds. My only hope is that nobody at the Telegraph ever sits him down and asks him to write more about cars.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Cemeteries are an endless source of fascination to me. In my local necropolis, there are two plots of note. One is over 100 years old, and is the family vault for James Maconochie, a pioneer of food canning and co-proprietor of Maconochie Brothers, whose first factory was located in my street. If you have relatives who served in World War 2, ask them about Maconochie stew. Another dates from a mere 20 years ago, and commemorates a man whose nickname, emblazoned on the headstone for all to see and scratch their heads over, was 'Pimp'. How did he get the name? Was he pimply? Was he Lowestoft's answer to Percy Blakeney? Or was he just a ponce?

It all reminds me slightly of the night when a friend admitted to having a relative with a shady past, whose tabloid nickname had been 'Harry the Ponce'. I'm guessing that Harry's gravestone doesn't bear this legend.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The news that the Government is considering various measures against file-sharers, including cutting off their Internet connections is more amusing than worrying, from where I'm sitting. After receiving David Geffen's hospitality, of course Mandy's got to make harrumphing 'something must be done' noises. Is it even remotely enforceable, though? Save for a few well-publicised legal actions brought by the RIAA in 2002 or thereabouts, the threatened wave of mass prosecutions has failed to materialise. A few people have received legal letters from computer game developers demanding compensation for alleged file-sharing naughtiness, but all can quite reasonably claim that it must have been someone leeching off their unsecured wireless broadband and tell the beaks to piss off. The Pirate Bay verdict has not resulted in the site's closure, and those responsible for running the site remain free men, despite ludicrous sentences being handed down. Even if it were possible to monitor every last bit of data sent or received, it would, effectively, criminalise the vast majority of computer users. If you've looked at even a single clip on YouTube, you've almost certainly been a party to 'copyright theft'. Most of those computer users will also be voters.

I share files. I've put things on YouTube to illustrate points I want to make here, I use Bit Torrent, and I download music and video from blogs and other sites. However, none of the stuff that I send or receive is available commercially. I encode and share records and archive TV programmes that haven't a cat in hell's chance of a DVD or CD release, but which a small number of people still want to see/hear. Some of the things I've hoovered off the Web have been vital for my researches into light entertainment. If I want something, and it's available to buy, I buy it. Legally, there's no distinction between sharing the contents of a commercial DVD and a forgotten comedy show retrieved from a Betamax tape, but, morally and ethically, I think there's a considerable gulf between the two acts. Just recently, I saw a newly-released DVD of a 1970s TV series turning up on Bit Torrent sites on the day of its official release. I'm afraid that's not cricket, chaps.

Maybe I'm just post-rationalising my own transgressions, but I can't see a problem with sharing commercially-unavailable material. For one thing, doing so drives a coach and horses through the distasteful practice of bootlegging for profit. For another, sharing an obscurity can help create awareness and interest for an eventual commercial release. The DVD of the Armando Iannucci Shows, an excellent series overlooked at the time of transmission in autumn 2001 because of various world events, came about largely because comedy fans had been sharing the shows online in the years since, bringing them to a new audience who'd missed them when they went out. The fans then began lobbying for a proper release. Hell, I've even seen things that I've encoded turning up as the source of clips in TV programmes - in which case, the broadcasters are the ones doing the illegal downloading. How do you like them apples?

If Geffen gets his way, will I be left without an Internet connection? Believe when see. In the meantime, the 'creative industries' should stop insulting their customers and potential customers, cease bellyaching about file-sharing and simply try to work out ways of making it generate revenue for them. Home taping didn't kill music.
Keeping with the theme of digital radio instant nostalgia, was the Digital 1 multiplex so named because it had only one station worth listening to? The demise of Oneword was a sad day for UK radio. On a budget that wouldn't cover Mark Damazer's annual expenditure on coffee and Danish pastries, it provided a good, intelligent, broad-based speech radio service, with nary a phone-in to be heard. Maybe I'm biased, having had several mates who worked there, and having nearly bagged a show of my own just before it went tits up (the first time, that is), but it was a good, talented little outfit, producing splendid stuff. If the backers had held their nerve a little longer, who's to say it wouldn't have turned the corner?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Regular visitors to this corner of the WWW will know already that schloss Cheeseford is home to all manner of strange, wonderful technology. My family of open-reel tape recorders rule the roost, but there's room for more recent obsolescence such as the object on the left. That's what affordable digital radios looked like in 2000. Well, I say affordable. When launched, the Psion Wavefinder was £299, and you needed a PC with USB ports for it to be any use at all. I sprung for mine when they came down to £99 a year later. At the time, I was reviewing radio for the New Statesman and I felt I needed to keep up with all of this digital lark. That and the fact that, despite putting my life in peril by hanging out of my 2nd floor flat window with an electrically-unsafe drill to install a suitable antenna on the side wall, my VHF reception was still far from perfect. Unfortunately, I chose to opt in at the moment that the BBC dropped the bitrates of all their stations (save for Radio 3), so I was merely swapping one set of sonic compromises for another, but with timer recording and other rather neat features, it was a worthwhile bit of kit. When it worked.

I've lost count of the number of times I reinstalled the drivers and the front-end software. I unplugged it, plugged it back in again, found a piece of third-party software that disabled the resource-hogging lights (I should take some video of the lights in action. They're oddly calming. When they work.), and I tried it with slimline salad dressing. Unfortunately, every which way I turned, it was a buggy piece of crap. I kept it for dire emergencies, but came to rely on satellite and Freeview for my radio reception, as well as an improved VHF aerial installation when I moved to my present house. Finally, when Windows XP Service Pack 2 came out, it was bye bye Wavefinder, as Microsoft had done something under XP's bonnet to make the Wavefinder even more of a dud than it had been before. I hung it on the far wall of my office as a lesson to myself never again to be an early adopter.

Then, last week, I read on Mike Brown's excellent TX list that the ruddy things work again in XP SP3. I went through the rigmarole of reinstalling it, and yes, it works. Sometimes. I had hoped that having a computer several times more powerful than the one I had in 2000 might have helped the Wavefinder realise its full potential, but no. It's still a buggy piece of crap. And yet I can't bring myself to get rid of it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

To my great surprise, I've just had a phone call from Bob McDowall. To my even greater surprise, it was a long, constructive conversation about the show, the issues and Radio 2 in general. He said a lot of things that I suspect would be heard sympathetically by a lot of his harshest critics, and he said that he'd love to say them in public, but that he was unable to make any definitive statements until he's talked to Bob Shennan (currently on holiday) about the situation. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Mail story is not quite how he remembers what happened, and I know the problems involved in relying on a single source, so a contrary view is always instructive. What he did say, though, was that he genuinely didn't want Malcolm to leave and that he was and is looking for ways to incorporate relevant dance band music into the programme. He also corrected some of my assertions about gram library usage, which I'm happy to take on board - the process of transferring rare material for use in programmes is ongoing, and his view is that he's happy to spend whatever it costs to do the programme right. The information that he's an ex-BBC Scottish Radio Orchestra musician goes some way to scotching (no pun, etc) the idea that he's a faceless bureaucrat, meddling in perfectly good programmes.

Anyway, I'll be continuing to lobby for BBC Radio 2 to reinstate its commitment to dance band music, but I'll be easing off on Bob McDowall, in hopes that, when he and his programme team have had time to regroup, they'll confound all of the critics.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Two reviews for the papperbok edition of Turned Out Nice Again this weekend. In the Sindie, Brandon Robshaw says " I thought I was going to love it at first – there are fascinating accounts of the early variety acts...The entertainingly told...But there is too much emphasis on the behind-the-scenes stuff, the hierarchies, management structures, procedures, and budgets." Agree to disagree. I've always found what goes on backstage as fascinating as what happens out front, and have also always believed that the writers, producers, session musicians and crew members are the most reliable sources of information. Also, in this case, hierarchies and budgets play a large part in shaping what ends up on our screens. Still, Mr Robshaw thought it worthy of 3 stars out of 5, and expressed his reservations in a polite, constructive manner. Can't say fairer than that. Just one thing, the Parkinson show he cites was 1982, Richard Burton wasn't involved and if he still wants to see it, the section I write about is on YouTube. Meanwhile, in the Mail on Sunday (4-star review not yet online), Simon Shaw says that I'm "an excellent companion to have on this visit down memory lane". That's very kind.

Also in the MoS was this piece about Malcolm Laycock's exit from Radio 2's Sunday night schedules. The Mail stable's anti-BBC agenda is well-documented, but as this story seems to come from a reliable source - Mr Laycock himself - we can, if we can bring ourselves to dismiss the Mail's motive, trust it. So, it appears that the dance band element of the programme was canned simply because executive producer Bob McDowall didn't like it. In which case, was there nobody around who would have happily taken over the dance band side of the show, so that McDowall didn't have to sully his lugholes with Jack Hylton, Jack Payne, Jack Hylton again and the band at the Brixton Astoria? The show still has a constituency, and it's one that has every right to be served.

The decision to get drop the dance bands was symbolic of a problem with the BBC that needs to be flagged up a lot more than it currently is. While the Corporation is impeccably, and quite rightly, anti-racist (The BBC's 'urban music' digital station 1Xtra has a weekly reach of 491,000, while the Asian Network has a reach of 473,000. So, their pulling power is only about 30% more than Laycock's listenership, but would anyone even dare suggest replacing either station with something else entirely? Feel free to take your time in answering that one.), anti-sexist and anti-most other isms you'd care to name, it is deeply ageist. This would be offensive enough if it weren't also a complete and utter fallacy that you have to be old to appreciate dance band music. I'm 36, and I'm far from alone. The BBC's entertainment programming was built on live relays from the major London hotels, and that precious weekly half-hour of music was a direct link to the Corporation's origins. It should be viewed in a similar light to the Tower of London's ravens.
I'd be interested to know whether that figure of 360,000 listeners is from before or after the decision to narrow the programme's focus, and how many have deserted the show since?

Below the Mail story, there's a host of comments including one from 'Deanna of London': "Awwww poor diddums, a measly 24 thousand pounds for 52 hours work? I expect the people who work in a supermarket who take home around 300 measly single pound notes for 52 hours work, will be sobbing for the injustice to this poor man!!". You're missing the point, Deanna. Laycock's saying that the 52 hours of radio involve far more than 52 hours of work, indeed that it's a full-time job - scripting, checking discographies, timings, creating running orders, etc. Given some of the other salaries given to Radio 2 presenters, the asked-for £38,000 for a year of impeccably-researched, meticulously-prepared programming that credits the listener with intelligence looks like a bargain.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Yesterday afternoon, I was sitting on a bench near Lowestoft station, sharing my cod and chips with the youngest member of the Swiss Family Cheeseford. The sun was out, the nosh was lovely, my ankle is on the mend, and I thought that things couldn't get much better. And then, I looked towards Lowestoft station and noticed a set of carriages unlike those that haul the normal services in and out of town. A mixture of mark 2 and mark 1 stock, I deduced, leading to the logical conclusion that there would be a locomotive of some note at the front. So there was - BR Britannia class 70013 Oliver Cromwell was paying a visit with a steam enthusiasts' excursion from Liverpool Street to Norwich, then to Lowestoft, then back down the East Suffolk line to Stratford. Cheeseford Junior showed enormous interest in the big, noisy machine, and having established that it would be in town for a couple of hours, I resolved to go home, grab my camcorder and capture its departure, which I share with you now. Like James May in yesterday's Telegraph, I'll admit to a preference for early diesel locomotives. Faced with a choice of a famous steam loco pulling modern carriages and a modern locomotive pulling vintage carriages, the smell of warm leather and moquette always beats any amount of atmospheric smoke. However, I did feel a pang of jealousy that I wasn't on the Easterling as it chuffed away back to the capital.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I've just heard about the death of Les Paul. I really, honestly, thought he was good for the ton and then a few more. His mother achieved a great age, and, when I saw him live at Iridium in New York in 2002, he looked indestructible - even if a stroke had robbed him of some of his dexterity. However, I don't think anyone can call 94 a bad innings, and he packed a hell of a lot in to his time on Earth. Pioneering and popularising, if not actually inventing, the solid-body electric guitar. Creating 78rpm soundscapes that still sound futuristic as all get out. Inspiring Ampex to make the first practical multi-track tape recorder. I grew up with his music, and I still revisit those amazing, astonishing Capitol sides regularly. When he struck up 'Brazil' on that night in New York 7 years ago, I found myself crying a little. I'd played the record to death, and now I was no more than 20 feet away from the man who'd made it, hearing him play it live. After the show, he sat at a table and signed stuff for anyone who wanted it, which was just about everyone in the audience. I waited my turn, shook his hand and we had a brief chat. I tried not to gush. I didn't need to. Without being arrogant, he knew precisely how great and important he was. RIP Red Hot Red.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Maybe Bob McDowall has voodoo powers. Or maybe I was pissed. We shall never know. Both are possible explanations for how I passed out on Sunday morning, sending my full 14 stone 13 pounds crashing down on my right ankle and resulting in the accompanying picture, taken at Stroud railway station. It happened while spending a weekend visiting relatives in Gloucestershire, and such a lovely time was being had that not even the injury and the fact that Mrs Cheeseford's beloved Nissan Sunny had been declared DOA (hence the need to return by rail) could put a crimp in the festivities. I'm currently finding PRICE easy to comply with, and doing OK at avoiding H, R and M of HARM, but I reserve the right to ignore the advice on the A.

Crossing London as a temporary cripple was an interesting experience, second-guessing rude bastards with their tinny little iPod headphones blocking out the outside world, allowing them to rush about like headless chickens, oblivious to the fact that they've just nearly knocked over someone whose stopping and turning abilities are considerably less than theirs. In one case, I found myself shouting something obscene at the person who'd almost sent me flying. Oddly enough, the name I called him got through his aural insulation, and he turned round and asked if I was talking to him, in a manner that he obviously thought menacing, bless him. I said that I was and that I was glad I'd got his attention, as it might in future make him more aware of his surroundings when walking around like he owned the pavement. His response: "You can talk about walking". Choosing not to debate the meaninglessness of the utterance, I replied: "Yes, I can. And if you'd like to carry on being able to walk, I'd advise that you go on your way right now". Which he did. I'm not a violent sort, and as can be seen from the picture, I was dressed like Alec Guinness at the end of The Lavender Hill Mob. I can only put it down to the fact that I had a walking stick, and the expression of a man who knew how to shove it up someone's arse.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Apologies to the fellow blogger who added a comment about BBC producer Bob McDowall from the vantage point of having worked with him. Very illuminating, and the poster in question knows I trust his judgment, but in this instance defending it would take more time and effort than I'm prepared to expend. Since the Laycock cancellation, he has developed a reputation for stalking himself on the Internet and requesting that critical comments about his abilities be removed. That he shouldn't do things that make people want to call him what the deleted comment called him seems not to have crossed his mind. Similarly, the idea of tackling his critics head on and winning the argument with sweet reason seems not to have crossed his mind either. Maybe that's because he knows he's ballsed this one up royally.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Back when I were a wage slave in London, the only thing that made the Monday morning commute bearable was listening to a mini disc of the previous night's Malcolm Laycock show, recorded off BBC Radio 2. Despite being in my mid-20s at the time, I enjoyed both halves of the show equally - the 30 minutes of British dance bands, then the 30 minutes of big bands. Well, I say 30 minutes of each. I remember my dear, much-missed friend Tony Moss, president of the Cinema Theatre Association, muttering to me on a visit to the Regal Sloughborough or somewhere that "Malcolm's been short-changing us. The dance band section is always under the half-hour nowadays". As a fan of both genres, I didn't mind quite so much as Tony the purist, and was simply grateful that someone, somewhere was broadcasting any amount of this stuff.

I can only begin to imagine how Tony would have reacted last December when Laycock was ordered by executives to drop the dance band half of the show. I know I could have expected at the very least a long telephone call of elegant, refined profanity. Informed profanity too, as Tony spent many years in the personnel department of the BBC and remained well versed in Corporation gossip. I was pretty angry myself, but knew that Laycock wasn't to blame. I've only met him once, in the bar at a Ted Heath band concert in Westcliff-on-Sea, but our brief conversation confirmed how much he cared (and cares) about the all aspects of the music in his show. In particular, his willingness to request obscure 78s from the BBC Gramophone Library, using the programme budget wisely to get them transferred, restored and shared with a devoted listenership, did him and producer Roy Oakeshott great credit. This was real public service broadcasting in action.

The alarm bells began ringing when Oakeshott left the show and was replaced by Bob McDowall, producer of Big Band Special. I believe Oakeshott retired from the Corporation staff, only to return as producer of Russell Davies' independently-made Song Show. Suddenly, every side played by Laycock came from a commercially-available disc. Then, there was no room for dance bands at all. Finally, Laycock disappeared on holiday for a few weeks - the first time I recall this happening in all of the time I'd been listening to the show - to be replaced by Clare Teal. Now, I like Clare Teal. I'm not a fan of the current crop of female jazz singers. In particular, Stacey Kent's reedy singing voice brings me out in a rash. I'm sure she's a lovely person and all that, but if offered a chance to hear her sing, I'll pass. Clare Teal's pretty good, though. I saw her at a jazz festival in Guernsey a few years ago and was impressed by what she did with the songs she sang, and her general witty on-stage manner. She is, however, flavour of the month at Radio 2, and her stand-in stint on the Laycock show seemed an obvious indication that Malcolm's tenure was coming to an end.

So it has proved. Last Sunday, without fuss or fanfare, Laycock signed off with an announcement that this show was to be his last. There were no DLT antics, but what he didn't say was very telling to those who've been following this particular saga. He thanked Oakeshott and current producer Caroline Snook, but there were no garlands for McDowall. The BBC Radio 2 website pushed out a statement that he was leaving for personal reasons. He's since dismissed this as untrue and made it clear that his departure was due to a disagreement on programme policy.

When McDowall kiboshed the dance band element of the Laycock show, the logic seemed to be that only coffin dodgers listened to that part of the show. Not so. I know of quite a few people my own age and younger who listened devotedly to that side of the proceedings. Given that much of the current popular song book dates from the dance band era, the original versions continue to be relevant to an audience of all ages. If any research was commissioned (and the BBC doesn't fart without focus group approval these days), chances are they deliberately canvassed the opinion of the worst kind of tinnitus-afflicted iPod abusers, who wouldn't know a tune if it came up and goosed them.

So, here's hoping that an enlightened station will snap Malcolm up and let him do a show like the one he used to do. It doesn't have to be a national network. If he's broadcasting somewhere, we'll find him online. In the interim, at least we still have The Late Paul Barnes on BBC Eastern Counties. Before some prannet like Mr G Reaper makes the connection, I will declare an interest here. Paul is a good friend of mine, and my visits to Norwich usually end with a trip to Barnes Towers for coffee and a natter. I was, however, listening to his simply spiffing show long before I knew him personally. So there.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Thanks to the bin lid stapled to the front of schloss Barfe, I've been watching the German TV repeats of 1970s editions of Top of the Pops. On the editions they've shown, 3 presenters have been in charge: Toe Knee Black Burn, Noel Edmonds and James Savile (then just an OBE - his KCSG had yet to materialise). Of these, I've met Blackburn and Edmonds. My encounter with Blackburn was brief (he'd just won Oldie of the Year, and I had sidled up to congratulate him), but , as you'd expect, very pleasant. Others who know him far better have supported my initial impression that he is exactly as he seems - a thoroughly nice bloke.

Then there's Noel. At one time, I thought he was great. I was always more a Tiswas fan than a Swap Shopper, but I caught enough of Noel, Maggie, Keith, etc in the ad breaks to be aware of his work. His Radio 1 weekend shows were the real source of delight to this smutty-minded pre-pubescent lad, especially the interventions from announcer Brian Perkins as Perkins the butler. I particularly recall the pair of them musing on the what each BBC radio network would call nasal mucus. Radio 1 was "snot", Radio 4 was "mucus", but Radio 2 was a more vexed issue. After much thought, Perkins replied "On balance, sir, I suspect that Radio 2 would be 'gribbly'.". Unfortunately, during the lost years when I thought all mainstream entertainment was shite, possibly evil, I came to regard Mr Tidybeard as something of a pariah. When Victor Lewis-Smith compiled the following 'Honest Obituary', I cheered:

When he retreated from television, I cheered again. Years later, though, as I began to research Turned Out Nice Again, I saw him being interviewed on a show called Who Killed Saturday Night TV, and felt very sorry for him, because he'd clearly been shafted by the production team, who had set out to present him as a risible, pathetic figure. They failed. Then, in the mass of excellent viewing material given to me by friends and associates for research purposes, I found a couple of editions of the Late, Late Breakfast Show. You know what? They were ace, largely because of the likeability and professionalism of the presenter. I bumped into him briefly at a book launch, explained what I was doing and begged for an interview. He said yes. Meeting him at his office, he was charm personified and also a crackingly good interviewee. Nothing was off limits - the Michael Lush business clearly still affected him deeply, but he talked very openly about the incident, and the difference between blame and responsibility.

Near the end of the interview, he said that he was delighted to be away from telly. Example: He'd been asked to appear on Five's reality show The Farm, the sole point of which was to show townie celebs floundering in a bucolic idyll. There was something they hadn't realised about Noel: "I own a fucking farm. What would I want to be on The Farm for? I’ve got a farm. I know what cowshit looks like". If it looks like he's angry and bitter there, I should point out that this section of the recording is covered in gales of laughter - his and mine. I have no doubt that his delight at being off telly was sincere at that point, but that Deal or No Deal was the ultimate offer he couldn't refuse. Quite right too. It's a compelling enough game in abstract, but without someone as good as Noel building the atmosphere perfectly, it's not an hour's worth of TV. So, Noel Edmonds - one of the good guys? Hell, yes.

Which leaves Sir James Savile, who has been the subject of much innuendo and rumour about his private life. Men in pubs, who claim to have friends of friends of friends who work on The Sun, wink and say, with confidence, that "it'll all come out when he's gone". Now, I've had a theory about Savile for years. I'm convinced that what will emerge when he's gone is that he has led a completely blameless life, but that he just never minded appearing a bit weird. It'll all come out that there was nothing to come out.