Thursday, December 08, 2011

A moving story

After four and a bit happy years here at Blogger, I'm moving the Cheeseford experience to my own webspace. From now on, it can be found at See you all over there for more of the same.

Cheeseford Virtual Archive TV Advent Calendar day 8

Phew, we've caught up. For day 8, it's the early arrival of this week's BO Problem podcast with me and top comedy writer Matt Owen. Treat yourself to just under an hour and a half of erudition and scurrilous nonsense about the seating arrangements on Blankety Blank, how Nick Knowles got into telly, a great night out with the newsreaders, how John Travolta really made his fortune and how God-fearing Brummie comic Don Maclean blew his chances in Hollywood.

Cheeseford Virtual Archive TV Advent Calendar day 7

Or, if you don't fancy having a dinner party, why not get a talented mate to bring his bongo-playing chum? Even better if you've got a camera crane to hand for the bongo herbert to perch on. Yes, that's right. No inlay or overlay, Juan Mendoza is actually sat in front of the camera as it tracks in and out. Dennis Main Wilson directed this one. No idea who was on camera 1, but the hat is doffed.

Cheeseford Virtual Archive TV Advent Calendar day 6

Apologies. I've been a bit busy, so have missed a couple of days. Let's now play catch up. At Christmas, what could be better than having your closest friends around you? Why not have a dinner party? That's what Cleo Laine and John Dankworth would do. The campaign for a DVD of this series starts right here.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Cheeseford Virtual Archive TV Advent Calendar day 5

And for day 5, let's nip to Agricultural Hall Plain to visit the other side. On the right is the main Anglia building, where the company has been based since 1959, while on the left is the old Post Office, which it annexed from around 1980 to a few years back.

Cheeseford Virtual Archive TV Advent Calendar day 4

Apologies for a slight delay in presenting the fourth day of this extravaganza, but I found myself tired, slightly deaf in one ear and spending most of Sunday on trains. Anyway, have this picture of a pleasant Georgian building in Norwich. This is St Catherine's Close on All Saints Green, from where the BBC did its eastern stuff from the 1950s to 2003, when the operation moved to The Forum.

Oh, go on then, have another picture. This bit is the extension, built when Look East went into colour around 1975. It is now a dental practice. From Stewart White to pearly white. There you go. Don't complain. You're getting it for nothing.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Cheeseford Virtual Archive TV Advent Calendar day 3

For day 3, we go to something I found on the end of a VHS tape while transferring stuff a while back. From the 6 January 1995 edition of The Word (recorded because Sleeper were the opening band, I suspect), we have Frank Bruno saying something that could well be deeply inappropriate and a future sitcom vicar's wife gambling her possessions for a CD player. Postpubtastic.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Cheeseford Virtual Archive TV Advent Calendar day 2

For day 2, an outtake from the recording session for the inaugural BO Problem podcast, featuring a serious discussion of an important aspect of television history - the Nationwide cake-passing ritual.

The BO Problem - outtake - Nationwide (mp3)

The BO Problem - podcast number 1

The first BO Problem podcast is up now, including Dave from Minder's porn shame, Derek Nimmo format bingo, alternate careers for newsreaders, showbiz autobiography titles and inappropriate laughter during wedding ceremonies. It's all here, folks: - You need to go to 'Click here to start download from Sendspace'. The other 'download' links are ads.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Cheeseford Virtual Archive TV Advent Calendar day 1

Blimey, is it December already? Seems so, which means another 24 days of archival oddities, you lucky people. We start with a strange and lovely thing that was looped 24 hours a day on Sky channel 999 a few years back. No word of a lie, I recorded two hours of this and have kept it on DVD. Occasionally in moments when I feel like my head is about to explode, the disc comes out and order is restored. It's a soothing yet slightly melancholy thing, thanks, I think, to the music. A talking terrier and a similarly vocal duck seated in a toy fire engine would be something rather special any day of the week, but the music elevates it somehow. I can say with confidence that it's the best thing Sky has ever made or transmitted. Less so the interactive menus featuring the dog and duck, which can be seen after the initial couple of minutes.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Casting a pod

For yonks now, I've had the vague idea of doing a podcast, but have dismissed the whole idea of talking to myself as boring, both for me and for anyone else. However, after extensive negotiation, I have persuaded my good friend, the comedy writer Matt Owen (Private Eye/Joan Rivers Position/11 O'Clock Show) to join me once a week for the discussion of light entertainment, real ale, interpretative dance, politics and life in general. Here, from a recent discussion on Cook'd and Bomb'd radio, is a rough downloadable MP3-type idea of what to expect. Oh, and here is a link to Cook'd and Bomb'd.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


To underline Barry Cryer's point about the warmth of the old school light entertainment stars, have a look at this glorious clip of Eric Morecambe opening a holiday home in Norfolk for handicapped children. A class act through and through, with time for everyone. "Yeah, but he's got a camera crew following him around," some of you might say. Well, I've heard numerous reports that, camera crew or no camera crew, this was how Eric Morecambe conducted himself in public. If so, it goes a long way to explain why he and Ernie were so loved. When the reporter asks a daft question in a slightly misguided effort to be funny, Morecambe plays along. This, ladies and gentlemen, is how you do it.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

No honour among comedians?

Some interesting comments crop up in today's Guardian interview with Frankie Boyle, comedian, Sun columnist and author of a heavily-promoted broadside against consumerism. I shall leave aside his defences of his offensiveness. I have no problem with offensive comedy, but I don't think Boyle's any good at it, or properly able to justify it. I might return to this issue when I've got less work to do and thought it through a bit more.

What really interests me is his comment about Stewart Lee being "irrelevant and flabby". In a fit of apparent gallantry, Boyle goes on to defend Michael McIntyre and Russell Howard against Lee's criticisms. However, I can't believe that Boyle's dismissal has nothing to do with Lee's criticisms of his own work, particularly Lee's assertion (once again in a Guardian interview) that with "most of those professionally offensive one is ever actually offended. Everyone understands the parameters and operates within them, the audience and the performer".

This leads me back to something that Barry Cryer said when I interviewed him for my forthcoming book
The Trials and Triumphs of Les Dawson. Baz loves everyone and is loved in turn, so he finds it distressing to see comedians trying to get at each other in public. "Writers have got more cameraderie than comics. Now it's fierce," he said, telling the story of a very famous young comic who rang him up for advice. "[He said] 'They're all having a go at me. Why? Why? Why?' and I said 'Lie back and enjoy it. You've played the O2. You're big. It could be jealousy.' He said 'People can enjoy Frankie Boyle and Jimmy Carr, they don't have to watch me.' I said 'Calm down and enjoy'."

Baz then talked of another phone call he received, this time from one of the old guard. "
I was talking to Ronnie Corbett this very morning on the phone...I said 'It's fascinating that we remember Eric and Ernie, Frankie, Tommy and everyone. They were all friends. Competitors [but] they never slagged each other off in public. Now they're all doing it. Are you jealous of him? What's happening?"

Maybe it all became too calculating and business-like with aggressive management operations like Avalon, Off the Kerb and John Noel promoting a 'kill or be killed' attitude? I'll let Baz have the last word. "Denis Norden, my dear old friend, said a brilliant thing. He's like me and Ronnie Corbett, we love the young ones. I've just done Edinburgh. I love the young ones. Denis said 'Comedy's as funny as it ever was, but it's not as much fun'. The warmth thing. There are brilliant people around now. Ross Noble's warm. Bill Bailey's warm. There's a lot of IQ about now. Brilliant brains, but not the warmth."

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Now then, now then

If I weren't so busy, I'd be very tempted to hop on a train to Leeds and pay my respects to Sir James Savile OBE KCSG at the Queen's Hotel. He was a fascinating figure and a shrewd old buzzard, as this previously-unpublished excerpt of the interview I did with Jim'll Fix It producer Roger 'Doctor Magic' Ordish for my book Turned Out Nice Again proves:

"I didn’t have big agent struggles, particularly when Jimmy Savile didn’t have an agent, really. Bunny Lewis was nominally his agent, and sometimes he’d want him to deal with something. Jim would say things like 'I don’t want to up my fee for two reasons: I’d pay to be on in the first place, and if you’re on a low fee, you’re not beholden to anyone'. For instance, sailing close to the wind, I remember he came onto a Juke Box Jury that I did, '79 or whatever it was, he wore a t-shirt that said, what does it say on hoardings? 'This space available.' Something like that. 'Your name here.' Not surprisingly we were always doing things with the railways [on Jim'll Fix It, and] we had the [British Rail] chairman Peter Parker on, and then he and Peter Parker had a serious conversation. The next year, Jimmy Savile was doing those ads – 'the age of the train' for years and years. He said, 'That’s the money I want. I don’t want the Beeb fiddling around whether they’re going to pay me another £50 or not. I want millions of pounds from British Rail. That’s the means to the end'. As they used to say at the time ‘Why is this train late, Guard?’ ‘It’s the age of the train, sir’."

Roger is a very clever chap, and it might have been easy for him to look down on the show that he oversaw for its entire 19 years on BBC television. He never did. "I really think that when I started there, most people thought 'What I make is good, and I’m not going to make it if I don’t think it’s good'. I loved that about Jim’ll Fix It. Very lowbrow, very simple programme, but we always wanted it to be good. The attitude, I feel, now is 'This is the sort of crap that they like, so this is what we’ll make'. But they’re saying this is crap. It may have been so, but we never made anything with the idea that it was going to be crap because that’s what the common people want. It’s very arrogant."

Thursday, October 06, 2011

No Jobs

This is a sad day. A man has died of pancreatic cancer. That man ran a computer company. Did he invent the personal computer? No, he led a team that refined the object to a point that certain people believed his computers to be more than just devices for writing, looking at the Internet, designing and editing things. Did he invent the mobile phone? No, but his company made really smart smartphones. Did he invent the MP3 player? No, but his company made the shiniest MP3 players in the business.

I love good design, and many of Apple's products qualify. Indeed, I have used Macs happily at various points in my life. However, I have a couple of problems with the whole Apple thing.

  • The expense. A while back, a Twitter acquaintance asked for netbook recommendations. I threw my 2p's worth in, regarding my £169 Windows machine. Another chap said that the enquirer simply had to get a MacBook Air. I did a quick bit of research and couldn't find one south of £800. It's a fine looking object, but is it £631 better than my netbook? When sitting in the British Library, making notes from the Radio Times, would I get the full benefit of that £631? Or would I be better off spending it on gin? The chap recommending the MacBook Air said it was worth every penny without providing any convincing arguments as to why. When I bought my first home computer in 1997, I really wanted a Mac. I'd worked with them at Lancaster when I was running the student newspaper, Scan, but they were so much dearer than IBM-compatibles that I climbed in through Windows 95. The same still seems to apply.
  • The cult of Apple. Some people seem to need something to believe in. Many of them think they're too clever for religion, but they display the same sort of blind devotion to a purveyor of technology. Apple strikes me as a more benign and slightly less expensive version of Scientology.
  • The smugness. Apple shops do not have customer service or repairs departments. They have Genius Bars. Even if the choice of name is slightly tongue-in-cheek, it can still fuck right off.
Naturally, the reaction to Steve Jobs' death on Twitter has been extensive. The level of gadget frotting over there is high, as is the number of people who'll make a shit joke about anything. So, the avalanche of quasi-religious Jobs worship is being counter-balanced by lots of weak iDead, iStiff and iCoffin gags. In many ways, it seems to be a Princess Diana moment for nerds. Some keen on being seen to emote the most about a person they never met or knew (Flowers being left outside the Apple shop on Regent Street? Really? Is that where we are?), while others are equally keen on being seen to show how little they care about the person in question. Neither position appeals to me, so I'm avoiding Twitter today, except for the odd dip in to see if they've stopped. There is a #ThankyouSteve hashtag that brought out the worst in me. Thank you for what? Thank you for selling me an overpriced shiny bit of kit that allows me to feel slightly superior? Thank you for all the 'inspirational' platitudes?

What about everybody else who's going to die today? Many of them will die in horrible ways that could be addressed if the world's wealth were more evenly distributed. Relative values mean that some in the west regard poverty as being unable to afford an iPhone, while many elsewhere have no access to fresh water. A man has died. Get a fucking grip.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

We have been watching...

Very sad news about the passing of David Croft. His greatest achievements were in comedy, rather than variety, so he got only a passing mention in Turned Out Nice Again. One of the more uncomfortable editorial decisions I had to take, but there we are. To redress the balance slightly, I think this previously-unpublished passage from the transcript of my interview with former BBC TV head of light entertainment Jim Moir is worth sharing.


"We were discussing how when you come off the training course, you get stuck with a whole bunch of producers. I was attached to David Croft for a show called Ad Lib. It was an early ‘you take a sentence, I’ll take a sentence and we’ve got to get to this conclusion’ type show. Very experimental for BBC2. There were two trainees on it, me and a fellow called Dick Clement. I did my bit, ran the floor, I was in the bar with David and he said ‘Well what do you think?’. I said ‘Well, I was just thinking what else we could put in the show. What about if we got a jazz singer, a scat singer? Because that’s kind of ad lib.’ He went ‘Mmmhmm’. Three weeks later, Annie Ross rocks up on the show. He had not said one single word to me, but he had listened to me, thought it was a good idea and just went out and did it. I’d not said anything to him ‘Did you do that because I said so?’ because clearly he did.

When that series came to an end in about May, the boards for the permanency – I’d been a trainee for about 6 months, the boards were in June. And it was David Croft who gave the report on me after 6 months of traineeship, and said ‘Hire this boy’. I have everything to thank him for, for that opportunity, and I can honestly say that he was probably the greatest head of light entertainment we never had. I don’t think he could have afforded the drop. He’d be looking round to commission himself. He was a powerhouse. He brought on an enormous amount of in-house talent. He was generous, as was Michael Hurll with the people who came up under him, as was Yvonne Littlewood. I don’t think people even know they’re doing it. It’s not ‘Today I will bring on X amount of talent’. You just do it. You recall the chances you were given."

Friday, September 02, 2011

Fucking diddums

Novelist and raddled Kevin Godley lookalike Howard Jacobson has been moved to pass stern comment on blogs and blog(wo)men. Apparently he feels "a bit chilled" when he looks at blogs. "What you read is extreme ignorance and pure poison," says Jacobson, "It is a poisonous, poisonous medium. You can’t believe how malicious, how ignorant, how stupid… and you do wonder if they don’t have anything better to do than attack people who have written articles. And you do wonder whatever happened to the idea of the critic; of the reviewer… people who have given their lives to honing the art of what they do."

He goes on to add that "Occasionally I read some people’s comments on Amazon, some of which are beyond belief", which is, for me, the clincher as it makes fairly clear that he is basing his opinion of all blogs and non-professional commenters on unfavourable comments that have been made about his work. He's Googled himself, discovered that not everyone regards his every last word as spun gold and had a hissy fit. Bless. Jacobson seems to be saying that the only valid critical opinions are the ones for which the reviewer has been paid by a mainstream publication, and that if you bought one of his books and found it rubbish, you should keep schtum about it. Obviously the same applies if you love his work. Obviously.

This attitude is problematic balls on several levels. For one thing, mainstream book reviewers run the risk of meeting the authors they're reviewing and might be tempted to temper their views for a quiet life. Or they might overstate their views to get a bit of controversy going. It's a myth to think that newspaper book reviews are beacons of fair play. You might not like the honest response of a punter, but them's the breaks. Then there's the fact that blogs are no more inherently poisonous or ignorant than a blank sheet of paper. It's what's written therein that matters.

Jacobson also seems to be saying that only paid writers pay any attention to the matter of craft, which is, frankly, insulting nonsense. "People who have given their lives" suggests a degree of suffering, but in my experience, being a professional writer means going to bed when I like, getting up when I like and, in between, having a lovely time with concepts and words, rather than "giving my life" to a grinding job that I hate for an employer I despise.

Bloggers are "people who have written articles", you hidebound old media ninny. They might not have a column in The Independent, but they have a forum, and this can be a wonderful thing. What exactly is it that makes them inferior? I write books and articles for money. I also have a blog. Do I have to dress up half as an author and half as a blogger, and argue with myself like Tommy Cooper used to? All in all, it seems to be another manifestation of the ailment known as Linehan's Palsy, in which someone moderately celebrated who likes the freedom to give out their opinions to all and sundry can't actually bear anyone else having that freedom if the opinion is not in their favour. Free speech is wonderful, but only up to a point.

Howard, love, if you look a bit harder, you might find that the vast majority of blogs aren't about you. For sure, there are some unpleasant things said out there in blogland (I've said some of them myself, I admit quite freely, and I stand by every last syllable), but there's also a lot of intelligent, in-depth discussion of interesting topics that wouldn't necessarily be covered by the mainstream media. Saying that all blogs are poisonous is as erroneous as saying that all novelists are ill-informed horse-faced narcissists.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What's a chap to do?

These are fearful, paranoid times. We are all under observation (Even you. Especially you, in fact.), and our habits and utterances are being monitored for the merest hints of insurrection and incitement. There's a question to which I need an answer. Is it OK for bearded men to smile and pull faces at children on public transport? I do it because I remember how much I enjoyed a good childish adult when I was a bairn. Hiding behind a hand then removing the hand to reveal a gurning visage. All adding to the gaiety of modern life in all its grimnitude. I'm not doing it to groom anyone. I'm doing it because I'm 38 going on 6. Maybe there should be a licensed jester scheme, with CRB-checked gurners being denoted by a 'harmless loon' badge? Until then, should I just scowl at youngsters to be on the safe side? If the Phantom Dog-Nosher of Norwich does a phone-in on this, I'll know I'm onto something.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

It's a scab eat dog world

Not entirely unexpectedly, there has been a wee bit of reaction from within the BBC at Norwich to my musings on BBC Radio Norfolk presenter Nick Conrad. One colleague of Conrad's, whom I know a little and like a lot, dropped me a note to say "I wouldn't say we were close friends, but I have always got on very well with him and I think he's an excellent presenter". We agreed to disagree on the final point. However, another colleague was less warm, describing Conrad as a "walking disaster area", and noting that the blog post had "caused some smiles".

Conrad achieved a degree of national notoriety in February, when he had as a guest on his show a man who claimed to be the son of the rightful owner of the cat adopted as a pet by the Camerons. The whole thing was a hoax intended to highlight churnalism, and, while Conrad sounded sceptical throughout the interview, the fact was that by the time the piece went out, it had already been revealed as a hoax. That "really troubled some of us here," Conrad's colleague explained, "It wasn't only because he and others were taken in by an experiment in churnalism. They picked the story up from the Daily Mail which is their habit and then, had they simply checked on Google News, they would have found the originators 'fessing up to it. But that one simple check wasn't done."

Another broadcast that caused alarm to some of Conrad's colleagues was his show of 27 July 2011, which was billed as a look at the Olympics and Norfolk's part in the whole beano. It transpires that it doesn't have one. Once again, the programme opened with a repetitive, breathless three-minute introduction that said all that needed to be said in the first minute.

Nick Conrad 27-07-11 intro by Louis Barfe

Mmmm, pie. Any more pie? How many times did he refer to pie? I truly can't be arsed to count. The real problem with Nick's Olympic spectacular had little to do with catering arrangements or duff metaphors, though, and everything to do with the unprofessional way he addressed the unavailability of Keith Nicholls, head of the University of East Anglia's Sportspark, whom he, in the words of his dismayed colleague, "berated". "In Conrad World nobody has anything in their day which could be more important than answering his summons," his fellow broadcaster observed, "And it is in direct contradiction of BBC Producer guidelines where a clear 'empty chair' policy is set out. And we are simply not allowed to make a judgement on people who choose not to come on a programme."

Nick Conrad 27-07-11 by Louis Barfe

Note the moment where he suggests the council chap should spend more time in the Radio Norfolk studio, so that Conrad can keep him informed on his own business. That's the sound of someone who believes their own publicity a wee bit too much. It's the sound of massive self-importance, and it's completely at odds with the laid-back, gently-mocking tone of Radio Norfolk's best presenters and output.

The following day, Mr Nicholls made time to visit The Forum and make an appearance on Conrad's show. Why was Mr Nicholls denying Norfolk its slice of Olympic pie (presumably made in a tin in the shape of five linked rings)? Mr Nicholls explained calmly the logistics of Olympic training, and how it would not be in the interests of the Sportspark users to deny them use of the venue for a month so that it could be given over to training.

Nick Conrad Keith Nicholls 28-07-11 1 by Louis Barfe

Mr Nicholls is not some bland suit or a risible Mr Brittas-style timeserver. He's a former English volleyball international, and he was instrumental in setting up and designing the self-funding Sportspark over a decade ago. In summary, he knows what he's talking about, and in his professional judgment, the interests of the UEA Sportspark and its customers would not be best served by chasing reflected Olympic glory. Later in the interview, he states that he's open to discussion with teams who want to use the Sportspark, but clear that it would be on the Sportspark's terms. Fair enough. Except it isn't. Conrad ploughs on, suggesting that Nicholls and the council have lied or been guilty of some kind of cover-up, when clearly a sound and reasonable business decision has been reached. Listen to a Conrad show (if you have the stomach for it) and the phrase "I put it to you..." will be much in evidence, suggesting more an over-familiarity with the Network DVDs of Crown Court than any sound journalistic nous.

Towards the end of the interview, the subject changed to Mr Nicholls' non-appearance on the previous day's show. If you can't be bothered to listen to the whole of the following clip, go to 2 minutes 27 seconds, listen to Nicholls, then listen to Conrad's reply, and do please let me know in the comments below whose side you're on.

Nick Conrad Keith Nicholls 28-07-11 2 by Louis Barfe

"Forgive me, " Conrad practically hisses, "but I know my audience far better than you do." What a horrendously high-handed thing to say, even if true, and what an unpleasant way to say it. Conrad's despairing workmate puts it this way: "Since then 'I know my audience' has become another tongue in cheek quote plied around the production office here. But what happens next time we want to talk to the UEA Sportspark? I think it's the lack of a sense of a proportion which I find so shocking. He thinks he's Paxman."

How well does Conrad know his audience, though? As I said earlier, his tone jars hideously with the well-established personality of the station, and it's a station that has routinely beat BBC Radio 2 in the ratings on its own patch. I'd be very interested to know how Conrad's figures compare to the rest of the day's output, and with historical figures for that same slot. Maybe it's getting to the point where Conrad could reach the same number of people each morning by doing house calls on foot. When I first moved to the area, the bit between breakfast and afternoon was the largely the province of a broadcaster called John Mills, who specialised in solving problems for listeners and tackling the authorities on their behalf. Sadly no longer with us, he was a softly-spoken man whose words nonetheless carried a lot of weight, but who knew when to ease off and keep it light and polite. In contrast, Conrad seems to be under the misapprehension that you have to be a cynical, aggressive hard-arse about everything.

On the 27 July show, Conrad says that sometimes people in authority have to hold their hands up and say they got it wrong. Maybe they'd be more inclined to do so if there were a bit more give and take from his end of the studio. Conrad's personal response to criticism is illuminating. My correspondent at The Forum sent me another email this week, informing me that the ENPS database on which the station's contact details for contributors are stored has been amended to read "in big red letters" the following: "WARNING - has written offensive material online. Avoid." The entry was modified on 3 August 2011 and last modified by Nick Conrad. I have to confess that this news made me burst out laughing. Over the years, I have written plenty of offensive material, both online and in print, but I don't think my previous piece on this fascinating specimen of bad radio qualifies as offensive in the slightest. I've been in and out of The Forum semi-regularly for the last six years or so, blethering unpaid about music and archive TV, and judging talent competitions, simply because I like the station and I like the people I've been on air with. Graham Barnard, Chris Goreham and Stephen Bumfrey are among the very best presenters that radio (local or national) can offer, and I loved working with dear old Roy Waller. The production staff too: Amy Barratt, David Webster, Kirsteen Thorne, Kevin Newman, Thordis Fridriksson. All really good radio people. I said what I said about Conrad because I felt he was letting their side down, and if I'm now not welcome at The Forum for saying it, well, that's a price I'm happy to pay.

Meanwhile, he continues, stinking up the Norfolk airwaves for 2 hours a morning. Has Conrad's show really got the whole county talking? If so, what are they saying? I suspect that more than a few will be saying "Oh Christ, not him again. Turn it off".

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Everybody out for some sweet and sour labrador

It's always fun on BBC strike days, watching to see who's had no problem with waltzing through the picket lines. Last night, on the late edition of Look East, we got Nick Conrad, the 9am-11am presenter from BBC Radio Norfolk. Immediately, I thought "Oh look who it isn't. Not only a dog-eater, but also a scab".

A dog-eater? Why yes. I listen to a lot of BBC Radio Norfolk's output, but I'm afraid the radio goes off whenever I hear Conrad. He seems to think he's edgy and provocative, but he strikes me as terribly bland and not a little smug, which is never a combination designed to keep me tuned in. However, one morning in February, I didn't get to retune quick enough, and the intro to the show made me stay listening, because I thought "this could be interesting", and not in a good way either. Here's that intro.

Nick Conrad 09 02 2011 intro by Louis Barfe

What amuses me most in retrospect is the way that he reiterates the various points endlessly, simply to last until the end of the jingle, which is 2 minutes and 41 seconds long. After the first minute, he is talking loud and saying nothing new. Maybe he feels that the listenership is deaf and/or as thick as pigshit?

My faith was rewarded fully about 20 minutes into the show.

Nick Conrad 09 02 2011 dog by Louis Barfe

"Every animal should have a right to a human death," says one listener. Conrad corrects himself. It is unclear whether the listener in question couldn't spell or whether it was Conrad's reading at fault, but what is clear to me is the memory of spluttering coffee across the room as I burst out laughing.

Then comes David from Thorpe St Andrew, who has a point to make about the live transport of horses for food. He's unhappy with the inhumane way the cargo is treated. It is at this point that Conrad deploys what he believes to be his thermonuclear warhead, the thing that really puts the cat among the pigeons (in this case in a white wine sauce with aubergines and shallots). The way he admits to having eaten dog while on holiday in Vietnam clearly indicates that he's been bursting to drop this bombshell from the moment the show's subject was decided: "Yes, that'll get Norfolk's dander up. My canine snack will really get them going." The "What do you reckon to that?" is delivered in the manner of someone who feels he's holding four aces. Outrage will be created. Talk radio gold will ensue.

Only one problem. It doesn't work. David from Thorpe St Andrew responds in a boringly matter-of-fact manner and proves (perhaps surprisingly) open to the concept of relative cultural values, Conrad doesn't like it. When David says he's eaten kangaroo, Conrad's purse-lipped "Yes" seems to carry overtones of "YES, BUT A KANGAROO IS NOT A FUCKING DOG, SO I REMAIN KING OF THE MEAT HOBBY, THUS I WIN", an impression underlined by his "David, allow me to speak" interruption. The show is not going according to the plan he had thought so fiendish and clever. David is despatched with "Good to hear your voice, you take care", which I hear as "Good to hear your voice, but it's a shame you didn't use it to react in the way I expected. You take care. Don't fall down any manholes, y'bastard".

With David out of the way, Conrad repeats that he "ate a dog" (a whole one?) in Vietnam, and adds that it's something that "really infuriates people". Well, not everyone, evidently.

EDIT: In the interests of accuracy, I have been asked to point out that there was no picket line to cross at the Forum in Norwich yesterday. This doesn't make Conrad any less of a scab, obviously.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Daily Mail once again makes me think 'FFS'

There's an awful, shitty story in today's Daily Heil about Wish You Were Here actress Emily Lloyd. The Heil is big on the physical form of women. Some are too thin. Some are too fat. If you're famous and you haven't been declared 'just right' by the arbiters of Derry Street, they let you know about it in no uncertain terms. In Lloyd's case, "the glamorous looks which once helped propel her to fame are gone". Really? She's a bit broader in the beam, but she's still recognisably Emily Lloyd.

If this story amounted to nothing more than "woman looks different at 40 to how she did at 17" it would be cunty enough. However, read further down. "She has spoken openly in interviews about her mental health problems – doctors have diagnosed mild schizophrenia, Tourette’s syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder and attention deficit disorder," Nick McDermott informs us helpfully. Well, being splashed across the pages of a widely-read newspaper in this manner's really going to help her deal with those various issues. Who are the "concerned friends" referred to in the article? Or are they not friends at all, just random fuckwits who've spotted her in the street and thought "Isn't that the girl from Wish You Were Here? She looks rough. Might be a few quid in it"?

Oi, McDermott, here's a free story for you, y'twat. At 17, I looked like this. Wasn't I a little darling? Fresh-faced, almost pert. And that's just a portrait. You can't see what I was like beneath the nipples back then. Bloody hell, I was gorgeous.

This is what I look like now, and I'm only 38. I've really let myself go, and I've done it quicker than Emily, who, as far as I can see looks absolutely lovely. I am frequently seen traipsing between my £80,000 3-bed terraced house (That's your preferred snidey house style, isn't it? I've estimated the value based on what houses of similar size go for round here now. I didn't pay that for it, obviously) and the chippy, having lost the glamorous looks that once made some girls consider me vaguely acceptable after a few pints. Unfortunately, I have no mental health issues for the likes of Nick McDermott to dwell on. I also have a penis and am not even vaguely famous, which might well be the deciding factors in the Mail's ultimate decision not to run with this exclusive.

In contrast, look at this buff, toned specimen of sex. That's Paul Dacre. He edits the Daily Mail. Look at his inviting mouth. You just would, wouldn't you? Phwoarr, eh? Eh? I think I've just spunked in my pants and I'm not even slightly gay.

If you read the Mail, remember that it hates everyone. Including you. Especially you if you're a woman.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

All the news that's shit to print

I first set foot in a newspaper office 23 years ago. I was 15 years old, and I was on work experience. On each desk at the Sutton and Cheam/Epsom and Ewell Herald was an in-tray, an out-tray, a telephone and a sit-up-and-beg typewriter. Stories were researched by speaking to people, either by telephone, or, as was often preferable, by getting out of the office, wearing out a bit of shoe leather and meeting them face-to-face. I remember sitting in an old people's home as a First World War veteran talked me through his experiences and showed me his photo albums. Would the story I ended up writing have been as good if I'd spoken to him on the telephone? Almost certainly not.

Nowadays, 'churnalism' is the word. Journalists from the smallest circulation local freesheet to the biggest-selling national hardly ever leave their desks. With more words needed to fill more pages, there isn't time to go out and get the stories. The typewriters have been replaced by computers, with Google and Wikipedia the overworked, underpaid hack's friend. Journalism now is increasingly about repurposing existing material. Why ring the person up when there's a tidy little bon mot on the press release? Of course it would be better to have an all-original line, but with deadlines looming, it'll have to do. I have nothing but sympathy for journalists working in this awful culture. I have less sympathy, however, for the way that many journalists now use social networking sites.

At one end of the scale is the relatively benign, but still lazy practice of plundering Twitter for a few handy opinions and bunging them into a nice space-filling box. 23 years ago, the work experience kid or office junior would have been pushed out of the door and told to get a few vox pops. Much better, and much more fun.

At the other end of the scale is the deplorable way in which individuals' Facebook profiles are often used fill in the gaps about that person. There's nothing particularly deplorable about using the profile as source material, apart from grumpy old hacks' general caveats about laziness. What makes it deplorable is the appallingly judgmental way in which the information is all-too-often used. Generally speaking, this happens when the individual has done or is suspected of having done something unpleasant or notorious. Take the case of Becki Leighton, the nurse arrested on suspicion of adulterating the saline drips at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport. Now, I have serious reservations about the correctness of naming the suspect at all. Remember Joanna Yeates' landlord? He turned out to be completely blameless, but only after his name had been dragged extensively through the mud by Her Majesty's Press. Leighton is a suspect. She could be guilty. She could be innocent. Nobody at this stage knows.

What we do know about her, though, thanks to the Daily Mail finding her Facebook profile (don't worry - it's an IstyOsty link) is that she drinks (sometimes to excess), she smokes and she has days where she really doesn't want to go to work. Well, that's pretty conclusive. Throw the book at her. Except, smoking apart, that description could also apply to me and most of the people I know. Look at the way it's presented. It is indicative of absolutely nothing, but it is presented as being of obviously massive significance. It is shitty hackery, pure and simple.

The fact is that most of us could be painted as awful and evil on the basis of unguarded remarks and stupid pictures that we intended to be seen only by people who know us well enough to understand the intent. If I became nationally infamous tomorrow, what would the Mail make of my Facebook profile? "The 38-year-old self-styled 'truffler' is seen on his Facebook page wearing sunglasses at an all-day riverside bender. His latest status update calls Rupert Murdoch 'a complete and utter bastard' and his picture albums also contain a photo of Cliff Richard in swimming trunks." Chances are that they wouldn't mention the status updates where I describe the Mail as a hateful shit-sheet, but there's more than enough source material there to make me sound properly unhinged. Maybe they'd have a point, but you could probably frame most people's Facebook updates in such a way as to make them sound unwell in the head and almost certainly a danger to shipping. What illuminating morsels could we find on the profiles of Mail hacks James Tozer, Jaya Narain, Claire Ellicott and Louise Eccles (It took four people to write that story? Seriously?) if we were inclined to look them up? In summary, judge not.

While I'm here, I should mention that I was obviously an insufferable, cocky little sod back in my work experience days, and would like to thank all the experienced professionals who put up with me on that original fortnight in the office and on my subsequent returns to the Epsom office. They all taught me things that I try to observe to this very day. When I hear people slagging off journalists, it saddens me, because I think of that team and my later colleagues at Publishing News, not of Johann Hari cut and pasting his 'intellectual portraits' or Neville Thurlbeck flogging his Horace in a naturist B&B. Without exception, they were and are good people, good journalists, good writers. Andrew, Pauline, Susan, Ian, John, Richard, Clive, Mark, Christine, Dina, Judy - thank you all for your patience and sorry for being an arse.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Brooksing no criticism

So many people are saying that Rebekah Brooks must have the goods on Rupert Murdoch to be protected and supported by him in the way she has been. I don't think so. He's just in awe of someone as venal, amoral and awful as he is, and the feeling is completely mutual. She is the only thing about which he is sentimental. I have a feeling they love each other in the purest way possible. It would be touching if it weren't so damaging for just about everyone else in the world.

I have worried about this whole business fizzling out and things returning to how they were before, with elected (and unelected) leaders tiptoeing around Murdoch like he's the one really in charge. If this Daily Mirror story about 9/11 victims' phone messages being intercepted is true, there's no danger of the momentum being lost any time soon. American people seem to take 9/11 very seriously, and won't take kindly to anything disrespecting those who died. If it's true, Murdoch's just opened not a can of worms, but an exploding can of radioactive shit that will stink up his reputation globally. Things have happened that I never thought I'd live long enough to see, and the indications are that there's more to come. I continue to greet each fresh revelation in the manner of the rubber-necking old bloke on the balcony in Rita, Sue & Bob Too.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Looking Gaunt

I apologise for this blog having become a digest of what I get up to on Twitter. If it's any consolation, I'm way behind with my diary as well. However, I have just experienced something I feel to be worth recording. I've never had much time for Jon Gaunt. For the uninitiated (and if you've never heard him in action, you don't know how lucky you are), he used to present the 9am-noon show on BBC London 94.9 in the days when Danny Baker was on breakfast. Whenever I was in London, I would rush to switch over or off at 9am, to avoid hearing Gaunt's oafish manner with callers and listeners. He's one of those people to whom I would take exception even if I agreed with his views 100%.

When the BBC reopened its Coventry and Warwickshire station in 2005, Gaunt - who had begun his radio career on the old BBC CWR - was enlisted to present the breakfast show, but soon resigned when a change in BBC rules meant that he would have to choose between his radio show and his column in The Sun. TalkSPORT snapped him up, and there he sat, bellowing at a microphone until he called a Redbridge councillor "a Nazi" and "an ignorant pig".

This week, he turned up on Question Time, seated at the end of the table on screen right. Those who follow the #bbcqt hashtag on Twitter will know the name given to this particular position by the irreverent. He started well by declaring that his old boss Rebekah Brooks should resign, but I lost my patience when he started shouting. You'd think that someone with as much radio experience as Gaunt would have a bit more microphone technique, wouldn't you? By the time he brought up the Divine Brown incident with Hugh Grant, order had been restored and I was back to thinking he was a steaming great nit.

All through Friday, as I tried to get on with my work, I kept thinking back to Gaunt's pisspoor performance. Finally, in a moment of boredom, I posted a fairly mild joke about Gaunt on Twitter, being sure to mention him to avoid accusations of cowardice:

"Breaking: People of Coventry wish they had somewhere to send @jongaunt."

He's from Coventry, you see? Where do you send people you want to ignore if you're already in the place to which people from other locales banish their annoyances? Geddit? Oh, suit yourselves.

A couple of hours later, came the reply:

writer? So what have you had published you no mark"

I tried to be as helpful as I could:

Put my name into Amazon, you lazy sod."

He replied:

just looked at your site... Shite! Have yup published any thing?"

Oh dear. Even though it seemed likely that subtleties would be lost on Mr Gaunt at that particular moment, I felt that they were worth making:

I haven't published anything. I write; my publishers publish."

In the interim, I had re-tweeted his original misguided counterblast, as a result of which, he received helpful messages from several of my chums explaining that I was a raddled old hack with two books to my name and a third on the way, to say nothing of my years insulting Alan Giles in the back of Private Eye.

Finally, I decided to put Mr Gaunt out of his misery:

Seeing as you're too pissed or stupid to use Amazon, I've done the work for you, you fucking skid mark. "

DYSWIDT? He called me a 'no mark', so I called him...yes, exactly. Was he pissed? Who knows? Who cares? However, the timing of his replies would have been consistent with coming in from a bloody good night on the Scruttock's Old Dirigible, and deciding to fire up the computer for something to read while a kebab is demolished.

On waking this morning, I was amused to see that Gaunt had arisen and was tweeting incoherently at anyone who stood up for me. Now, Gaunt's radio show on BBC Three Counties Radio won three Sony awards in 2001, for its coverage of GM's decision to close the Vauxhall car plant in Luton. He doesn't like people to forget this achievement.

So, I struggled to maintain control of my bladder when he went at a chap called Simon Hepworth. Now, I've never actually met Simon, as we missed each other at Lancaster by a year, but we have a lot of mutual friends, and we correspond regularly. One day, we will get together for a pint and it will be like we've known each other forever. Simon's a vastly experienced TV director, best known for his work on Dick and Dom in Da Bungalow. These days, he freelances, and when he's not doing broadcast telly, he's doing corporate videos and online stuff. Anyway, Simon joined in the fun with:

called you a no mark...ah well, it's better than being a stain on humanity"

To which Peter Griffin's slightly less self-aware doppelganger replied:

haven't you got a shitty little video to produce"

It was then that Simon played his masterstroke. Knowing that Gaunt loves to flaunt his gongs, the "shitty little video" producer came back with:

@LFBarfe How many baftas have you won then?For a communicator you're rather rubbish at it when you can't fade people out aren't you"

Gaunt's two-part response was priceless:

no Baftas as not a TV maker but many many radio awards. How many have you won?"

you won one! 2005! Now that's funny and pathetic"

Now, a Sony award is a fine thing to have, but so's a BAFTA. Why is one something to harp on about endlessly, while the other is "funny and pathetic"? Gaunt couldn't see that his own tactics were being deployed on him to considerable satirical effect. Best of all was when Gaunt responded to a jibe from Simon about his various sackings and run-ins with Ofcom with 2005 for Dick and Dom! You haven't been sacked cos you're so bland andvworked for the Beeb, you little civil servant" Simon's a freelance who's worked everywhere, and he keeps getting hired because he's good at what he does. No cushy-job time-server he. On pointing out his freelance status, Simon got this bundle of joy from the erstwhile shock jock cock.

freelance really? I thought that was the polite way middle class ex BBC disguised being unemployed? Sorry to get it wrong"

Unless I'm reading that one wrong, there we have a freelance ex-BBC presenter attempting to use the terms "freelance" and "ex-BBC" as insults. Or maybe it doesn't apply to working class ex-BBC types? Gaunt also dismissed Simon as "now running a very small Internet TV company. Be polite and I might consider giving you some work.. I need a new tea boy". Quite apart from the fact that Simon's Internet company Video Ventures is just one of the things he does, what work has Jon Gaunt done since he left The Sun last year, apart from stinking up Question Time (which really is some kind of achievement) and posting on his own website?

Apart from his awards, Gaunt loves mentioning his Jaguar, as though it's some kind of indicator of his great success. So it was that he finished his dialogue with Simon: right on the hook, you were easy but you bore me now, I'm off to get the Jaguar cleaned and book my holiday. Bye bye bye" Wow, he owns a car and can afford to book a holiday. He must be Charlie fucking Big Potatoes. I have no idea of the age or model of Gaunt's Jag, but know for a fact that I could walk up the road right now and pick up a second-hand XJ6 for a couple of grand. Unfortunately, having never learned to drive, it would be a waste of wedge, but I could do it, and then I could wank on about it as though it actually meant anything. Incidentally, while we're talking of wanking, I am informed, reliably, that in Gaunt's autobiography Undaunted he tells a tale of flogging his Horace to the point of issue using the bra of his dad's girlfriend, a woman he referred to as The Slag.

In a way, I feel sorry for Gaunt. He comes across like one of those punch-drunk old boxers, mumbling about past successes and talking themselves up as they attempt one last comeback. Dismissing experienced broadcasting professionals as being fit only to be his tea boy, while nobody's rushing to give him a show of his own again. He's just another freelance, like me, like Heppy. Taking our chances and trying to turn a coin by being any good. Knowing the freelance game like I do, I suspect that his bravado is a front. Maybe he's invested well or something, but at the moment I don't think he's earning enough from his media work to run a moped, let alone a Jag. I suspect that somewhere in the West Midlands, there is a man who spends three hours of every morning shouting into a hairbrush before going out to soap his motor and check out the bras on the washing line. Poor sod.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Am I missing something?

I'm an old hack, and I'm quite often warm to the touch if not properly pissed, but I try not to get baffled by new technology. The users of new technology can be another matter, though.

On Thursday nights, my enjoyment of Question Time is enhanced hugely by reading and making live comments on the prog via the medium of Twitter. This week, Romaine Rand, sorry, I mean Germaine Greer (Why did Clive James ever bother with that pseudonym for his old Sydney University chum?) was on the panel and she suggested that daughters kissing their fathers goodnight were being programmed to flirt. Now, I'm quite fond of old Germaine, but I couldn't let that one pass, so I posted the following on the tweets:

"Germaine Greer suggesting daughters kissing dad goodnight is flirtation. In my case, it's more like being gobbed on. "

This is true. Kissing my daughter goodnight is a deeply unsexualised act akin to attempting the same manoeuvre with Roy Hattersley. She's always awash with dribble, and, when moving in for the pucker, she takes great delight in producing even more and leaving me feeling like my fizzog has just gone through the 30 degree cycle with her stained t-shirts. Tonight, I exclaimed "Eurggghhhh, you're so slobbery". She replied "No. You are". That I was now the slobberier of the pair was indubitable, but I had not produced any of the offending liquid. The comment was retweeted by your friend and mine, The Urban Woo, shortly after which both of us received the following response from some chap:

"Rubbish. Don't blame men."

To which I replied:

"Don't blame men for what?"

He replied:

"Is that combative. don't blame men for the faults of mankind is what I meant."

Slightly at a loss to work out what point he was making, I responded:

"I'm not sure what this has to do with observing that my 3yo daughter dribbles on me when kissing me goodnight."

then added:

"Tonight I said to her 'Yuk, you're so slobbery'. She replied 'No, YOU ARE'."

Now, one of the things I like most about Twitter is that people you don't know can say interesting things in response to your gibberings. Indeed, people can start by disagreeing violently with you, but you end up following each other having reached some kind of entente cordiale. You might never agree, but you respect each other's right to yada yada, and it'd be a boring shithole of a world if we all thought the same. So, despite my hackles rising, I decided not to give mateybollocks both barrels. His response to the above was one word:


Curiouser and curiouser. I only ever block spammers. People who disagree with me are always welcome to continue doing so. However, as I understand it, blocking someone merely means that they can't follow you. They can still see all of your tweets if they so wish. Given that I began with no desire to follow this bloke, and that he was declining in my estimation with every word he typed, I responded accordingly:

"I wasn't following you anyway, was I?"

Then came a line that wrong-footed me a little:

"Nasty man."

Reader, I can honestly say I thought it was a joke. The person in question describes himself on his Twitter biography as a "poker of waspsnests and pisstaker of the pompous", so I assumed it was all some kind of edgy humour. Suddenly, the "Blocked" made sense. He was trying to be friendly. As such, I replied:

"Well spotted. I sense a kindred spirit."

Then a desire for context made me look at his timeline, and I was shocked and baffled by what I found, not least:

"there are some really shitty human beings on twitter."

One of his associates evidently asked what he was on about, to which he replied:

"am having some real shit on twitter tonight. Paedophile stuff. Is it not monitored?"


"Got a guy (blocked now) doing paedo stuff about his daughter."

to say nothing of:

"He has 805 followers. make of that what you will."


"maybe this guy should be exposed."

He meant me. And what did he mean about my followers? That much was very unclear. I tried to follow him. He really had blocked me. However, at the same time, he had started following me. So, presumably, he could see everything I was posting, having opted in. I just couldn't discuss anything with him. Funny, I thought. Later he suggested to one of his correspondents that it was fine to "Defend the internet by all means but do not allow freaks to flourish". Physician, heal thyself.

Assuming he could see my posts on account of following me, I tweeted the following:

"Right. There's someone on here who thinks I was doing 'paedo stuff' about my daughter. I was actually doing the complete opposite."

"If [name of point-missing tit] unblocked me, he & I could have a proper discussion about him accusing me of being a paedophile."

I'll be frank. I'm riled. I'd quite like to have a frank exchange of views with this person, but that isn't going to happen, because he's blocked me. I can't see any way in which my original comment can be construed as "paedo stuff". The only possible way I can read it as such is if it was seen as an expression of disappointment that my daughter was hockling at me rather than flirting with me, but then, who would read it that way? Am I missing something?

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Spot the Muso

Following on from the Johnny Harris clip I highlighted the other week, I felt the need to introduce both readers of this blog to one of my hobbies: muso-spotting. I know I'm not the only one to do this, because I have spent many a happy evening with my chum Gavin Sutherland, peering through a fog of multi-gen VHS, port and brandy to identify the musicians on old light entertainment shows. Is anyone else with us?

My recent bargain purchase of The Ken Dodd Laughter Show on DVD provided very rich pickings indeed. In one of the shows, there was a running sketch concerning the Nelson Eddy/Jeanette Macdonald call-and-response classic 'When I'm Calling You'. At one point, we saw Pat Ashton dressed as a squaw trilling back at Doddy while seated at a Marconi mk VII, like so.

As if that weren't enough to bring me full glee, later in the same show, we saw Rita Webb dressed as a mountie (Rita Webb! A mountie! I use exclamation marks very sparingly, but I feel this is fully deserving of them.), singing the song to a distant figure. The camera cuts to the bandstand, where Doddy is now the squaw, standing among Alan Braden's assortment of London's finest sight-readers. I know I'm on safe ground when I say that's Bill Geldard under Doddy's raised arm, with a clearly-amused Tony Fisher in front of him. On Doddy's other side is Stan Roderick (and please do click on that link - the stories are wonderful). I can't be 100% sure, but I think the partially-obscured trombonist just under Doddy's left ear is Jackie Armstrong.

This is why TV orchestras rule. You can't have this much fun with a backing tape.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Last train to Superin Junction

I've been thinking a lot about this superinjunction business, and I'm unsure where I stand. I disapprove of the idea of individuals shirking their personal responsibility for their own stupid mistakes. In the same position, I would not have that luxury, nor would I want it. I make no moral judgment about what the injunctors have or haven't done. Individuals are free to do what the hell they like, as long as they can face up to the consequences. This is one of the reasons that I, as a young left-winger, came to respect Alan Clark. He was a terrible shit, but he made no bones about it. He was also lucky to be blessed with an apparently endlessly tolerant wife.

At the same time, I disapprove of the tabloids dressing it up as a freedom of speech issue. It isn't. It's a freedom to print prurient shit. Different thing entirely. At the heart of this whole brouhaha is the definition of 'public interest'. It is not 'any old thing that the public might find interesting'. I've been trying to work out what I regard to be a proper definition of the term, and, after several pints and a very decent dinner with a good friend, I think I've worked it out. If revealing a piece of information improves someone's life, then it's in the public interest.

By 'improving someone's life', I am not talking about improving the bank balance of an individual hoping to flog the sorry story of their sex life with someone moderately famous. Equally, I am not talking about improving the esteem in which the editor of a shit-sheet is held by his or her bosses following the increase in circulation. Nor am I talking about the minuscule improvement to the life of the fishwife or fish-husband reading the story of an individual's indiscretions and folding their arms in disapproval. I am referring to issues of corruption and wrongdoing, some of which are life and death matters. On the continuum of issues that affect us all deeply, a footballer or an actor who can't keep his cock in his shorts is a pretty minor business.

Not that I'm excusing the vain fools who have taken out superinjunctions, but I suspect strongly that Ryan, G----h*, H--h**, et al, have been guilty in the main of accepting duff, mendacious advice from lawyers who stand only to gain, whether the court order succeeds or fails. Moreover, I suspect that they have accepted this duff advice with relief in full expectation of what the same papers that now bemoan superinjunctions would do to them (Note the conflict of interest, right there). The saddest part of all is that by taking out their injunctions, they've created weeks and weeks worth of fish and chip paper, rather than letting the hacks have their fun and hoping the whole thing will be forgotten in days, which it almost certainly would have been.

So now we know the identity of CTB. Or rather we can talk openly about the identity of CTB, which anyone with a Twitter account's known for weeks. This is all thanks to the Sunday Herald pushing its luck and LibDem MP John Hemming using Parliamentary privilege (that is to say, immunity from prosecution for issues raised in the House, no matter how actionable). I say 'thanks', but the fact is that Hemming is not a brave freedom fighter. He's an attention-seeking twonk and, at this precise moment in time, he is Mr Murdoch & Mr Dacre's most useful idiot. Worst of all, I fear that his naming and shaming might have long-term effects on Parliamentary privilege. The key word there is 'privilege'. It is not a right. Privileges can be taken away. The concept of Parliamentary privilege dates back to before regular broadcasts of Commons and Lords sessions. That it continues to exist is a valuable weapon and a much-needed ultimate sanction, but if grandstanders and showboaters take the piss, it could well be curtailed. When Paul Farrelly used Parliamentary privilege to out Trafigura on the issue of toxic waste dumping off the Ivory Coast, that was a revelation in your actual public interest. Toxic waste dumping is a far more important issue than a randy celebrity.

As for Twitter, it has shown its ability to stand up for itself en masse and defy authority on issues that groups of its users believe to be important. That could be a great thing. Twitter just needs to make sure that it's ready do it on an issue that really really matters.



Monday, May 16, 2011

Going Downtown with Johnny, Don & Harold

Regular visitors to this corner of the Internet will know of my affection for the great TV orchestras - the Hazlehurst band, Jack Parnell's ATV Elstree boys, Peter Knight, Laurie Holloway, Alyn Ainsworth (with or without the NDO), et al. At a recent BFI Missing Believed Wiped event, a 1969 Lulu show was shown, and it contained a performance of Downtown by the house band that nearly resulted in me having to be scraped off the back wall of NFT1. Lulu's musical director back then was a man called Johnny Harris, and there's never been a hipper bandleader, with his Carnaby Street shirts and groovy conducting moves. If that were all he had going for him, he'd have been memorable enough, but he was (and is) also a superb musician and arranger. Here we have the cream of the 1969 London session scene - Don Lusher, Harold Fisher, Don Honeywill, Ronnie Chamberlain and Keith Christie among them - tearing through one of Tony Hatch's finest moments made even finer by Harris's* educated scoring nib. Just watch, listen and marvel. Oh, and then go and buy a copy of Movements. You won't regret it.

* I am assuming that it's a Harris chart. I will, however, take correction if I'm wrong.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Whither Katie Boyle?

It's the Eurovision Song Contest final once again. Come and have some fun on Twitter while it's going out live. I'm @lfbarfe, and if I hit the Twitter limit in any given hour, will be moving over to my backup account, which is @cheeseford.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Big George Webley (1957-2011)

So there I was on Sunday, knackered after an 8 hours on various trains and glad to be home. Kiss the wife, check up on sleeping daughter, let the dog go mad and lick my face half-off, check the various online sources of information on which I rely. I'm perfectly prepared for the usual round of duplicity, despair and intrigue, but am not prepared for a news story about someone I regarded as a friend dying at the age of just 53.

I first made contact with Big George when he was doing a superb Sunday night show on BBC radio stations in the east, about eight years ago. I'd been a fan of his theme tune work for ages, and I knew his reputation as a top session bass player, but what I didn't know until then was that he was also a great communicator. He only played what he liked and he told you why he liked it, what made it great and so on. At the time, I was working on my first book - a history of the record industry - and I started emailing in with bits and pieces of information following up on things he said or played. Sensing a kindred spirit, he had me on the show when the book came out for a very extensive chat and wrote my first Amazon review - a rave. From then on, we stayed in touch, with the conversation always being raucous, slanderous and hilarious.

George did an overnight show at BBC London for a good long while, and was a master of the genre. Talk radio hosts in the UK tend to be either scrupulously even-handed (and dull), rampantly biased (and unpleasant) or devil's advocates taking up ludicrous positions to get a reaction. George was no fence-sitter. He had his opinions and he made sure you knew what they were. However, there was always a warmth and respect underneath. He was always happy to go at it hammer and tongs with a caller, but there was a decency underpinning it all.

Funnily enough, I was just about to email him asking for his thoughts on a work project I'm beginning. I suspect he'd have been full of good advice and eminently usable anecdotes. Now I can't. The loss felt by his family and his partner, fellow BBC London presenter JoAnne Good must be immense. In comparison, I barely knew him, but my sense of loss is great enough.

Anyway, about a year ago, he released a cover version of 'Alfie' recorded in downtime at the end of a jingle session. Danny Baker opened Monday's BBC London show with it. It's stunning. Remember him THIS way. RIP Big George.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Calling at Superin Junction, Gagging Order Halt...

Forget your Twitters. Cheeseford is the home of the real news about this 'superinjunction' shizzle that's going down in the high courts, with the A-listers all enlisting their learned friends to keep uncomfortable details of their private lives out of the red-top blatts. As I have an exemption from prosecution for defamation that I bought out of the back pages of Health and Efficiency for a tenner, I can blow the lid off. That's enough about my flatulence, though. Here's what the big names don't want you to know:

  • T*d Rogers was f***ing D*sty B*n.
  • L**d C***les went off the rails after the death of R*y Al*n, and began pimping T*ch and Qu*ckers in a M*yfair fl*t to feed his gin and quaalude habit.
  • The B*C N******n D***e O******ra and the D******m G*rl P*pers - the details are too sordid even for this blog.
  • Ch*rlton, with numerous Wh**lies, in his dressing room at C*sgrove-H*ll.
  • That take 1 of the H*rry W*rth opening titles featured the comedian doing the wind*w trick st*rk b*ll*ck n*ked.
  • The identity of the illegitimate offspring of the Y*rkshire T*levision ch*vr*n and the B*rder ch*psticks.
  • B*lly D*inty and B*tty the T*a L*dy - Let's just say that I'll never watch EBC1 in the same way again.
  • Al* B*ngo - the unconventional way in which he made things disappear, the cheeky scamp.
More as we have it. Cheeseford will not be cowed or silenced.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Bright and not so beautiful

The existence of the BrightHouse chain of stores goes some way to explaining why we're in so much trouble as a nation. The company describes itself as "the leading UK rent-to-own retailer, providing quality branded household goods on affordable weekly payments". What this means is that you can have your consumer durables now as long as you don't mind spending the next few years of your life paying through the nose for them. Let's take as our example a mid-range flat-screen television such as this Philips 32" LED set. If you have the cash or a credit card with the headroom to buy it, you can have it for a shade under £760. Or you can pay over 3 years at £7.01 a week, and it'll cost you a total of £1093.56. However, there's every chance that the item in question will be broken by the time you've finished paying for it, so, of course, you pay the extra 'optional service cover', which takes the total cost of that telly to nearly £1700.

The key phrase above is "if you have the cash or a credit card with the headroom". Nobody with either would go to BrightHouse (Obviously they're not loan sharks. Their name contains the reassuring words 'Bright' and 'House'. Shiny. Shiny. Nice. Not at all sharky.) unless they like pissing money up a wall. The company's whole business model is based on preying on the acquisitive poor, who are likely to get poorer and poorer if they keep supporting companies like BrightHouse. Interestingly, the company is an offshoot of what used to be known as Radio Rentals, from whom my grandparents rented a Baird TV (and later VCR) for about 30 years. In those days when TV sets were, by necessity, massive items of expenditure and the cathode ray tubes were notoriously capricious, renting made sense even if you were the sort of person who didn't hold with 'easy terms' for anything. Then is not now, though.

If you can get on without that state-of-the-art flat-screen set (and let's be clear, this is a case of want not need), you can have a lovely telly for 2/10 of sod all. There's Freecycle/Freegle for starters. Also, about 200 yards up the street here in Lowestoft, there's a giant British Heart Foundation charity shop selling second-hand furniture and electronics. They have a wall of widescreen CRT sets, all with 28" screens, for £45 a throw. Not £45 a month over 3 years. A perfectly serviceable TV for 15 pints of beer (or 10 at London prices), and you'll be saving a lot of plastic, metal and glass from going to landfill. OK, your spanking new flat-screen TV will be HD-capable, but how many HD programmes will you be watching on it? Even if you think that flat-panel TVs are better than CRTs (and the jury's out on that as far as I'm concerned), is the set in question 24.3 times better than the second-hand set from the charity shop? And even if you can make that leap of perception, is it really worth enslaving yourself to the likes of BrightHouse for years on end? If you can make the leaps of logic required to answer yes, you're buggered, and you deserve to be.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Herring Fishery Score

Good news, Richard Herring's Christ on a Bike is coming to the Marina Theatre, Lowestoft, on 28 April. Having been in a cocoon of Dawsonage for the last few months, I failed to notice this in the list of upcoming attractions, so I am grateful to Reverend Kyle Paisley of Oulton Broad Free Presbyterian Church for bringing the "infantile" and apparently blasphemous production to my attention. The Rev Paisley (now there's a name that cries tolerance and understanding, dontchathink?) plans to lead a protest outside the theatre. Good luck to him. It's a free country (still, just about). However, his fulmination has resulted in at least one extra ticket sale for Mr Herring, namely mine. What's that about the law of unintended consequences?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

AV in Colour

I can't fault a word of Beetwaste's analysis of the AV debate. I'm in favour and will be voting accordingly. AV isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it's an improvement on what we have. Also, a win for the no side of things will kill the debate on electoral form for a generation or more, as the victors present rejection of AV as a comprehensive rejection of any sort of change.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Michael Jackson - Up the Wall

There is a recording studio in London called The Premises. Until a couple of weeks ago, it was best known for its commitment to renewable energy and the recordings that have been made there. Right now, though, it's best known as 'that place with the statue of Michael Jackson dangling the baby out of the hotel window', and the studio website has been deluged with messages from Jackson fans condemning both the statue and The Premises for displaying it. The artist has, according to one fan, racked up a hell of a lot of 'Karmic debt'. What's the karma exchange rate for dangling a child out of a window? Anyway, three questions spring to mind:

1) Is art that depicts distasteful events intrinsically distasteful?
2) If you have a problem with what the statue represents, don't you have a problem with Jackson himself and his baby-dangling antics?
3) Do you have to be stupid, mad and deluded to be a Michael Jackson fan, or is it optional?

We've been here before, of course.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


It takes a hell of a lot to get me wearing a tie these days. Why, then, did I wear one to sit watching archive television and drinking myself into oblivion (or Mr TSW 1982, as oblivion is known officially) with several good friends last Saturday?

This is not just any old piece of neckwear. It is the LWT staff tie I was given for use in last year's advent calendar. It says everything about the quality of the company I was in last Saturday that I was lucky to escape with both my life and the tie when I finally made my exit. No item of clothing owned by me has ever been coveted by anyone (and, in this assessment, I am including nude tramps) before.

So, what other broadcasting-related ties are out there? I know of an excellent one, owned by a friend and sometime reader of these pages. Also, which bit of broadcasting iconography would you most like to see embroidered into a bit of neckwear? I'm in the market for a cravat depicting the original Harlech ident.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

The Daily Mail: what is point?

Bloody hell, I knew that the Daily Mail was a stinking dross-heap of a publication, but even I was slightly taken aback to read this tale of its non-existent ethics. At the moment, the degree of blame to be shouldered by the journalist who wrote the article is unknown. A hell of a lot can happen when subs get their hands on an innocent article, with 'improving' it on their minds.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Happy 80th Birthday Les Dawson part 3

Here, from 1984, is a snippet of Les Dawson in conversation with Roy Plomley about his epiphany in Hull, and whether he can play the piano for real:

Happy 80th Birthday Les Dawson part 2

For the second part of this blog's efforts to mark what would have been the great Les Dawson's 80th birthday, let's go back to 16 November 1974 for Dawson's debut appearance on Parkinson:

Happy 80th Birthday Les Dawson - part 1

Right, let's get the Les Dawson 80th birthday celebrations underway with this spiffing show opener from the first Sez Les of series 8, currently available on DVD. Script by Cryer and Nobbs, tailors to the gentry:

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The Dawson Watch

Les Dawson would have been 80 this coming Wednesday. As my biography of him is nearing completion, I am more aware of this than most. I've spoken to many of the people who worked with him, and all loved him. His spirit has been a benign presence in my house for the two and a half years since the book was commissioned, and while many biographers end each book with diminished respect for their subject, mine for Dawson, already high when I set out, has grown. I shall mark the occasion with fine Scotch whisky and a black pudding taste test. Dawson once got into a heated debate about the way this fine delicacy should be cooked. Dawson maintained that they should be boiled, but the other participant held that they should be fried. That the other participant was the Duke of Edinburgh and that Dawson was able to disagree with him good-naturedly but forcefully in the face of protocol and etiquette says much about both men and the respect they had for each other.

Meanwhile, how is this occasion being marked by broadcasters? ITV is showing a 10-year-old half-hour documentary about the great man. I'm not complaining, because my VHS recording of the original transmission is missing the first five minutes, but is that really it? The BBC, which employed him for the last 15 years of his life, and which could repeat his excellent and charming Comic Roots documentary from 1982, where he visits the Mancunian streets of his youth and the cotton mills where the prototypes for Cissie and Ada worked, isn't bothering at all. Sadly, I can't share that one, but expect some good clips to appear here on Wednesday.

In the mean time, enjoy my good friend Walty Dunlop's review of the new Jokers Wild series 1 DVD set.