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.

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