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Month: May 2008

Years ago, when I was trying to fill the shoes of Giles Gordon by writing the bulk of the book trade gossip for Private Eye‘s ‘Books and Bookmen’ column, I carried on one of GG’s many worthy crusades: providing the oxygen of publicity for Andrew Malcolm‘s laudable one-man campaign to get the charitable status and consequent tax exemption of the Oxford University Press revoked. Eventually, Ian Hislop got bored with the story, clearly believing that I’d become as obsessed as Andrew had, and stopped printing most of what I wrote on the subject.

Andrew remains a friend, and we correspond about our common interests: most often OUP and jazz. A package arrived from him this morning, containing photocopies from the Oxford Times which detail a small academic Oxford publisher’s pleas for a level playing field, and the residents of the OUP-owned houses who are being told that they have no right to buy their homes. In response to the small publisher, the OUP says that it is part of the University, and thus charitable. The journalist observes rather tellingly that this information came from an email with a .com suffix, not In response to the tenants, OUP is saying tough luck, that’s what you get when you live in a house owned by a charity. However, when the houses were built in the 1950s and 1960s, the OUP wasn’t a charity. It didn’t gain that status and unfair fiscal advantage until 1978. The responses of the OUP bigwigs seem increasingly desperate and rattled. Meanwhile, many ex-OUP executives who now work for commercial publishers would love nothing better than to see the removal of the charity status they once defended. Personally, I’d love to see Lewis and Hathaway take a break from murder investigations to look at the OUP. Preferably with an Alan Plater script.

Why am I not still writing the Eye‘s book trade gossip? To be honest, I became bored with publishers’ shenanigans, which showed through in my copy, and I found it harder to get stories in. After I took a break to finish my history of light entertainment (out in November), I found that I missed neither the bother, nor the money, and I just stopped sending things in. There was also the faint sense that whatever I did, I was sweeping up after the Lord Mayor’s show. Giles is missed.

What the hell. I’ve got the laptop on, so let’s blog live through Eurosong:

7.59pm – To get viewers in the mood for a night of Euro-frivolity, a self-flagellating BBC1 announcement about Eurovision: Making Your Mind Up phone voting. Does anyone really care?

8pm – Ah, the Wogan opens with an announcement in Serbian. In Lowestoft, a bottle of Lidl fizz is opened. The Baileys (well, the Lidl ersatz Baileys – or Queen Margot creme liqueur, to give its full, glorious name) must wait a little. Wogan describes last year’s winner (and this year’s opener) as “a bad-tempered Jeanette Krankie”. I prefer to think of her as a bonsai Keith from ‘The Office’.

8.07pm – The hosts are compared to Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald. One for the teenagers, there.

8.09pm – Romania, represented by “Vlad the Impaler” and a Vladette, get us underway with an unholy alliance of ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ and ‘The Winner Takes It All’.

8.13pm – Andy Abraham takes the stage. There remains no chance he’ll come anywhere near the top, but he gives it his all and projects nicely across the chilly wastes of the arena. Wogan must bear responsibility for his presence, as he was cast out of ‘A Song for Europe’ but saved by the Togmeister’s casting vote. A shame that the Trojan horse potential of the Romanian girl was overlooked, but there you are. Seeing the mimed backing (with commendable equal opps in the form of a girl guitarist) does, however, make me long for the days of the resident orchestra and the national conductor. With Hazlehurst having reached his coda, who’d be our national conductor now? Laurie Holloway, I’d imagine. Is Noel Kelehan still with us? To say nothing of Johnny Arthey.

A technical point. When will set designers realise that shimmery backgrounds turn low-bitrate digital transmissions into a pixellated heap of shit? At one point, it looked like Andy A was exploding. No bad thing, you might say. Also, we’re on early this year. I suspect that by the time the voting starts, AA and his band will be very nicely relaxed. If not off their faces.

8.20pm – Germany take the floor with Dortmund’s answer to the Sugababes. Not up to much, but a couple of years ago, when the Teutonic fraternity fielded a little girlie in a gingham dress singing a rather nice Preston (as Country and Western is known to all Wogan devotees) song, I thought they’d ace it, and they did almost as badly as us. So this’ll probably do well. Hang on, I’ve missed one, haven’t I? I’m trying to do this and make dinner. What do you want? Blood?

8.24pm – Armenia’s entry with “the Mongolian nose flute and three dancing eejits”. Armenia’s main contributions to music have been the Chipmunks and ‘Come On-A My House’. This is neither. Oh, and the great jazz producer George Avakian. He’s Armenian. And lovely.

8.29pm – Bosnia & Herzegovina: a strange one. Like a cross between Tatu and Hot Gossip, only done by the National Theatre of Brent. Four pregnant knitting brides backing Scary Spice and Super Hans from ‘Peep Show’. Still, when you’ve suffered as much as the Bosnians, it’s good to let off steam.

8.33pm – Israel with one that Wogan likes almost as much as Andy Abraham. Dana International wrote it, and the bloke singing it looks a bit like she must have done before she opted for reassignment work. This reminds me of the time a friend of mine was insulted grievously by an arch transsexual. Recounting the tale, he announced that he wanted to “kick her in the knobcunt”.

8.36pm – Finland rocks out. Ah well, why fuck with the formula?

8.40pm – Pablo Picasso does a number in a hat stolen from George Melly. Full Slavic knees-up ending ensues.

8.44pm – Poland goes ballad-style with the picture in Cat Deeley’s attic.

8.48pm – Banging choon from Iceland. Dr Alban considers suing.

8.52pm – Turkey goes admirably ahead of the curve with some Happy Shopper alt rock. The lead singer has a Kurt Cobain model Fender Jagstang. Shapes are thrown, and Germany will guarantee at least 8 points.

8.58pm – At the advice of a compadre in the Cook’d and Bomb’d chatroom, I’ve pressed the red button and am now watching Portugal’s pie-enhanced answer to Edith Piaf with subtitles. No sign of Boogaloo Stu. I hope he’s like Disco Stu from the Simpsons.

9.02pm – Boogaloo Stu shows his hand. Not that I’d wish to shake it, for fear of where it’s been. He thinks he’s Quentin Crisp, but he’s really Graham Norton’s less-talented cousin with the hair of Mollie Sugden. And here we go with Latvia, updating George Harrison’s closing number from the 1975 ‘Rutland Weekend Television’ Christmas special. Boogaloo Stu doesn’t like the pirate act. Funny. I thought he’d like his screen covered in seamen.

9.07pm – Is Sweden meant to be that colour? Ah, it’s a lighting effect. I was going to tell her to call NHS Direct pronto.

9.10pm – Denmark is in the area. I know why I like it now, as I sing “Wouldn’t it be nice to get on wiv me neighbours?” over the intro. Mrs Cheeseford also spots the theme from ‘Sesame Street’. By George, she’s got it. Whoever it’s stolen from, if that doesn’t do well, the Eurovision is a busted flush.

9.14pm – Time for Georgia. The nation that gave us Katie Melua. They’re not increasing the value of their shitty legacy with this.

9.18pm – Bonnie Anilorac gives us the Ukraine entry, with men in boxes. As a devotee of Sam Smith’s pubs when I’m in London, ‘man in the box’ means Ayingerbrau lager, the pump for which used to be a perspex cube containing a jolly Tyrolean gent. Having now had the equivalent of several pints, I can see that this might do well. It’s got a good beat, and she’s a comely wench.

9.21pm – “I am not a professional host” says the host. Don’t invite criticism, old badger. Wogan asks “Why do they do this?”, referring to the long interludes where the hosts have to fill. The answer is that it allows commercial European TV networks to get their ads in, as any fule kno.

9.22pm – Sebastian Tellier for France. Bearded backing singers in black. Bearded lead singer in silver makes his entrance in a golf cart, holding a transparent globe. Air and Phoenix meet Jarvis Cocker = too good for Eurovision? Who cares? This is marvy.

9.27pm – Joe Absolom sings ‘Confide in Me’ by Kylie, with a pair of furry wings on his back and his nadgers in a vice. Meanwhile, Ramon Tikaram pours Double Diamond on a recumbent female. Azerbaijan thinks this is the way forward. Your mileage may vary. Mine does.

9.30pm – Greece gives us her Secret Combination. I didn’t know they still made chastity belts. Not my favourite, but memorable and potentially a winner.

9.35pm – Why are Spain fielding Lee Cornes in one of Devo’s cast-off plastic wigs speaking the Seville telephone directory to the beat of the Macarena? Because they can.

9.38pm – Serbia will get a standing ovation from the hometown crowd, but it’s just the Asda Smart Price Enya really.

9.41pm – James Lance makes a surprise appearance for Russia. Not as surprising as Chris ‘Hey Look That’s Me!’ Harris on backing vocals and dance moves. Meh.

9.45pm – The last entry. How time flies. Norway fields Janine Butcher singing Amy Winehouse. The middle female backing singer is not a woman. Actually, this works. I can go for this. That’s the final nail in Norway’s coffin, then.

The interval approacheth. In 1977, we offered Acker Bilk. In 1988, the Irish fielded the Hothouse Flowers, and made them in the process. What can Serbia give us? We wait and we wonder.

10.20pm – So we got the Serbian Temperance Seven. Bloody hell. Svante Stockselius – Eurovision mastermind – is the Swedish doppelganger of Jim Moir, the BBC’s last great LE supremo and floor manager on the 1968 contest. We gave Greece 12 points? How? Why? What? When?

10.31pm – San Marino rescue the UK from ‘nul pwan’ hell, thus making up for pissing on us in international football once about 15 years ago. Cleavage alert: the Israeli presenter really should have pushed them together or worn a less revealing dress.

10.35pm – Wogan accuses the Moldovan vote presenter of being pissed. Which would be richly hypocritical if not for the fact that septuagenarian Irishmen can hold their Baileys.

10.40pm – Denmark gets a territorial 12 points from Norway, but that’s fine by me. However, they gave their 10 to Bosnia, which brought a “you must be joking” from Wogan. I can only agree.

10.48pm – I know she was saying ‘sorry’, but for a minute then, the Czech presenter sounded like she was awarding 10 points to Surrey.

10.54pm – Malta having failed to give any points to the UK, Ireland make up for it with an 8. The 10 and 12 go to Poland and Latvia, both admirably obscure choices for such rich praise. Hurrah for the Irish.

11.07pm – James Lance wins. At least it wasn’t Greece. Kevin Bishop is retiring. Is Wogan? He’s dropping heavy hints that it might be his last time, and suggesting that the western Europeans needn’t bother in future. With the result decided, he and Ken Bruce are off to get even more smashed. It’s a tradition, and one I endorse fully.

11.16pm – BBC News. Is it Jane Hill? Must be. She’s a known Eurovision fanatic and also rather lovely.

Despite being straight, I’ve loved the Eurovision Song Contest since childhood. Eurosong remains a highlight of my year, tiding me over amply between General Election nights with the Dimblebys – my other great long-haul broadcasting enthusiasm. Having watched both semi-finals, I was peeved but not surprised to see Dustin the Turkey get knocked out. The song (and I’m being uncommonly generous by classifying it such) was crap, but it would have been glorious to hear Sir Tel’s reaction to the line about the authenticity of his tonsure.

Wogan’s detractors, of whom I am not one, say that he just moans about every entry these days and is obviously pissed throughout. Well, yes. And that’s the charm of the Wogan commentary. Incidentally, having pressed him on the matter at an Oldie function, I can confirm that he and Ken Bruce each take a bottle of Baileys into the commentary box with them. I will be joining them from the comfort of my sofa.

To the songs. Andy Abraham, despite coming from a fine musical dynasty (He is the Great Gonzo’s son, isn’t he?), hasn’t got a cat in hell’s chance. Political voting is partially responsible. We won in 1997, 2 days after the Labour government got in. I remain convinced that a large part of the success was Europe saying thank you for ditching the Eurosceptic Tories. We started doing very badly in 2003. Jemini’s inability to carry a tune in a bucket must shoulder part of the blame, but our forced entry into the middle east can’t have helped. As long as that continues, we’re screwed. However, I digress. Captain Beaky’s number would have been a minor dancefloor hit in the early 1990s among the dance round your handbag brigade, but it ain’t Eurosong. Our only hopes in A Song for Europe (yes, I know it was called Eurovision: Your Decision this year, but it’s A Song for Europe and always will be) were Michelle Gayle and the Romanian girl from How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria. Neither would have won in Belgrade, but Gayle’s Woooooh! (sp) was suitably simple-minded, and the wannabe Julie Andrews would have picked up enough eastern bloc solidarity votes to keep us off the floor of the scoreboard. Instead, we’re on for minimal points, but not nul. Abraham’s selection is encouraging in one sense, though. We seem to have grasped that the other competing nations don’t regard the whole affair as a big gay joke like what we do. Scooch were doomed to failure, as innuendoes about sucking a Fisherman’s Friend and bags of salted nuts don’t really translate that well.

I’m going to refrain from forecasting the winner, as I haven’t seen all of the final entries yet, but if Denmark and France don’t finish in respectable positions, I’ll campaign for the EBU to be dismantled.

The last time we won, the whole shebang was masterminded by Jonathan King, who’s been ruffling feathers in recent weeks with Vile Pervert, the musical he’s written and performed about his arrest, trial and conviction. My old mate James Masterton has already written most eloquently about VP, but I thought I’d add my support to the enterprise, for what it’s worth. JK divides opinion violently. In the record industry, he’s recognised as a very smart operator and one of the shrewdest judges of what makes a hit record. In the wider world, however, he was known primarily as a purveyor of dubious novelty songs. To many, this made his trial an open and shut case, with most punters seemingly unsure which is worse – Una Paloma Blanca or paedophilia.

He was convicted for having sex with 14 and 15 year-old boys. If he did that, his jail term was utterly deserved. However, he claims he didn’t, and is taking his case to the European Court of Human Rights. Obviously, the Mandy Rice-Davies reflex is the natural response, but if you can spare 90 minutes, Vile Pervert casts enough doubt on the motives and methods of the prosecution in particular and the judiciary as a whole to be worthy of wider notice. It’s also very funny, and most of the songs are superb. I’d argue that ‘Wilde About Boys’ isn’t going to help his case as much as he might think, but the rest combine serious polemic with hooks you could hang a Crombie overcoat on.

Even if he was guilty of the crimes for which he was convicted, let’s have a level playing field (possibly not the right term in the circumstances, but what the hell). Rock gods like Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page are documented as having had wildly inappropriate relations with girls of the same age as King’s male accusers. The only difference is that the girls in question never pressed charges. However, the fact remains that they were as unable, in the eyes of the law, to give consent as King’s accusers would have been at the time they claim he had sex with them. And yet, I didn’t hear of any ‘burn the paedo’ protests at the O2 when Led Zep reconvened. Sex with minors is sex with minors, whether you’re ‘rock and fucking roll’ or not.

If, after you’ve watched it, you still believe King to be as guilty as hell, fine. At least you’ve surveyed the evidence and reached your own conclusion. However, if you’ve ever made unshakeable pronouncements on the guilt or innocence of an individual, you owe it to yourself to watch it.

Sticking with election broadcasts, I was disappointed to see Dimbleby Major winding up last week’s BBC1 coverage of the locals at 3.30-ish, a good 2.5 hours before he was scheduled to clock off. I don’t pay my licence fee so that he can slack. I was good to go right up to Breakfast, so should he have been. Jeremy Vine had to stay up, providing increasingly demented illustrations of voting trends as the dawn broke, although as I turned in, he’d abandoned the Quick Draw McGraw ‘howdy pardner’ cobblers and was just rushing around a lot, enthusing wildly. Jeremy, old son, a word of advice. Never, ever attempt a cowboy accent again. Remember you’re from Epsom, and we Epsom boys can’t pull that sort of thing off convincingly. Darn Tooting.