Thursday, May 28, 2009

Many years ago, Richard Digance had a dream. With mainstream television on a drive to attract younger, more idiotic audiences, the journeymen and journeywomen of the entertainment world were no longer getting a fair crack of the whip. People like Digance, who can still fill clubs and theatres, weren't getting screen time anymore, and younger acts on the live circuit had no chance of getting on TV at all. Putting his head together with fellow comics Mike Osman and Jethro (real name: Geoff Rowe), with a bit of backing from Chris Tarrant, he decided to found his own channel. Initially billed as The Great British Television Channel, it finally launched, sharing airtime with the PIF-heavy satellite channel Information TV, on 26 February 2005 as Sound TV.

It didn't last. Plans to fly the Information TV nest and gain its own position on the Sky EPG came to naught. Within six months, the dream was dead. In many ways, it's sad that it didn't last because far more pointless satellite channels continue to broadcast, but the first 38 minutes show quite clearly the seeds of the channel's failure. The opening attraction to the channel that says it's going to revitalise British variety is not a fast moving slice of top-flight entertainment, but three bored-looking old pros sitting at a table in a Southampton restaurant putting the world to rights for half an hour. Good video editing software is in the grasp of just about everybody, and you can get professional results cheaply. This just looks cheap. The logo looks like it was designed by Helen Keller.

As a child weaned on Tiswas, Tarrant's place in my affections is secured, and nothing he does can change that, not even Man O Man. I also have quite a lot of residual fondness for Digance, based on his 1980s LWT shows like Abracadigance. That whole raft of comics who came up through the folk scene, who were too edgy to be old-school but who were never seen as truly alternative, interest me greatly. Influenced by Jake Thackray, people like Jasper Carrott, Billy Connolly and Mike Harding blazed a trail (Harding's early 1980s Friday night BBC2 show was a must-watch, and, on the basis of clips I've seen recently, still stands up - no pun intended), with Digance and others following in their wake. I like Osman - who was heard to best effect on Capital Gold back in the 1990s - too. I've never seen Jethro's act, but his reputation as an entertainer is pretty strong, so I'll take it on trust. As a result of this, I had a lot of goodwill towards the venture. These men knew their stuff, so I tuned in wanting it to be great. It wasn't. By the end of the opening show, I knew the whole thing was doomed. Don't let that prejudice you, though. Here, in the interests of historical research, is the first 38 minutes of Sound TV.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The German digital channel EinsFestival is currently showing a rake of early 1970s Top of the Pops in the dark watches of the night, in the original English (or whatever language it is that DJs speak) unsubbed and undubbed. Having missed out on the UK Gold run of later shows in the mid-1990s, I'm atoning for my sins by hoovering these off the satellite onto shiny discs.

Last week's edition dated from 15 November 1973. Now, one of the guarantees of TOTP was that you heard (and usually saw) that week's chart-topping act. On this show, however, it jumped straight from Tip for the Top - Kiki Dee's 'Amoreuse' - to the fragrant Pan's People hoofing through the end credits to Barry Blue's 'Do You Wanna Dance?'. Where is number 1 band? A glance at the Murphy's Book of British Hit Singles (cheaper than Guinness) explained all. That week's toppermost of the poppermost was the erstwhile Paul Gadd, teetering on spangly platforms, as he belted out 'I Love You Love Me Love'.

Now, whatever your opinion of Gary Glitter, I have a problem with him being unpersoned in this way. Whatever he did, he was number 1 in this particular week, and without the number 1, Top of the Pops is, literally, not top of the pops. You don't want to give residuals to a convicted sex offender? Fine, pick another edition off the shelf. It's unclear as to whether the cut was made by the BBC, the German TV people or whether Glitter himself refused to allow clearance. The fact that Jonathan King was left in the repeat of the 29 January 1970 edition makes things even less clear.

If the motivation came from either the BBC or EinsFestival, double standards are at work. However abhorrent his crime, Glitter's served his sentence. Leslie Grantham murdered a taxi driver, but the BBC has never had any problems with employing him. Meanwhile, EinsFestival preceded one of the recent Top of the Pops repeats with a half-hour long profile of...wait for it...Bill Wyman.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

There's not an awful lot I miss about being a full-time wage slave, but I do have occasional yearnings for the banter and in-jokes that occur between colleagues on the same wavelength. When I worked on the now defunct trade paper Publishing News a decade or so ago, sharing space and humour with people like Rodney Burbeck, Roger Tagholm and Ralph Baxter (not to mention ad boss Matt Levy, who started the Crisp Olympics via internal email to decide on which variety of fried potato snackwas best, and designer Jon Bidston, who put subliminal items into the backgrounds of photos and created a treasured spoof place setting for the office Christmas lunch that still lives on my mantelpiece) made some of the other aspects of the job far more bearable.

Tagholm, in his dry Croydonian way, is one of the funniest people I've ever encountered. He's also an unbearable human being*, but you can't have everything. He once rendered me and Ralph (with whom I already had several years' worth of in-jokes stored up, the pair of us having been friends at university) speechless with admiration using nothing more than a slightly adapted section of Wichita Lineman. The paper was owned and run by a terrible old misanthrope called Fred Newman, whom I think I've mentioned before. He was known to the irreverent in the PN office as Kunta Kinte, just because it sounded a bit like what we thought he was. I think Tagholm might have been behind the rechristening. When we moved from Museum Street to Store Street, Rog found that his desk was directly under a skylight, and that, when the sun came out to play, his monitor was afflicted with terrible glare. Grudgingly, Fred arranged for a blind to be installed. One day, pulling the blind across with the stick he kept by his desk for the purpose, Rog sang to himself, quietly, "I am a blindsman for the Kinte". On hearing this, I think Ralph and I just stood up, clapped and nodded approvingly. What we really needed were those score cards that you used to see on the TV coverage of ice-skating. This would have been worth a clean sweep of 6.0s.

At PN, as at many workplaces, the office noticeboard was a strange mixture of serious information about the work on one hand, and surrealism and quiet subversion on the other. We had 'Up the Arse Corner' before Viz ever latched onto the idea. Also pinned there was a yellowing letter sent some years before in response to an article by columnist Ian Norrie, which we all suspected to be the single greatest item of reader correspondence ever sent to a periodical. When I handed in my notice to become an airy-fairy author ponce in 2002, I took a photocopy, which turned up the other day during a bit of light re-shelving, and I reproduce it for you here. I have reason to believe that its author is the same Simon Strong who wrote the cult novel A259 Multiplex Bomb Outrage. If it's half as good as this, I must find a copy.

*Actually, I love him, but I didn't want to look too crawly.