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.