Browsed by
Month: June 2008

About 25 years ago (well, just over 26 years ago – 23 May 1982 – if you insist on precision), I saw a TV Times billing for a Tales of the Unexpected in which Derek Jacobi played a Pied Piper figure. My 8-year-old self thought “that looks good” and then acknowledged that I’d never be allowed to stay up late enough. I wasn’t, but the same episode turned up on ITV3 a few weeks back and, thankfully, I remembered to record it.


Finally settling down to view it after quarter of a century, the first thing that struck me was that the setting was incredibly familiar, but somehow totally different. Soon, I realised that it was my local railway station, Lowestoft, in the days when it had a roof, full-on blue enamel British Railways signs, a news stall and a full complement of staff. Jacobi arrives in a slam-door DMU (after much Googling, I think it’s a class 105 – correction or confirmation received with equal gratitude) , in gaily-coloured cloak and top hat. He does a bit of sleight of hand when showing his ticket to the collector, then shows the children at the news stand a little magic before leaving the station and heading into town.

First stop is a market right outside the station. A change of road layout in the intervening 26 years means that this shot would be difficult to recreate today with a full film crew. However, with a small digital camera, it’s a piece of cake. The young girls depicted in the modern shot were quite clearly wondering what this old git on the bike was doing taking pictures of a semi-derelict railway station.

The roofline of the old Tuttle’s furniture store building can be made out in both shots, but the arched window on the station has long since been boarded up. Wetherspoon’s applied years ago for planning permission to turn this part of the station into a pub, but nothing came of the scheme, for saddening reasons that have now become quite apparent, more of which a little later.

For a final bit of magic, Pied Derek visits a flower stall, and kisses the hand of the flower seller in Lowestoft, before saying goodbye to her in Norwich. No, seriously. The first picture is recognisably the exterior of Lowestoft station.

Then, by the magic of television (and as this was Anglia Television, it was very special magic indeed, ho yus), the same woman, the same flowers and the same cart are whisked in a single film splice to the centre of Britain’s driest city.

After that, he prances around Norwich, goes past the Hog in Armour and kills Clive Swift, but that’s mere window dressing. Lowestoft station is the star of the show. Waveney District Council, who, if they owned a brewery, would use it for the manufacture of blancmange, is all for curtailing the tracks 400 metres away from town, putting up a bus shelter and calling it a station. This would then allow the rather nice 1855 building in Station Square – which still has its 1950s blue enamel British Railways sign on the front – to be demolished for flats, shops and other things the town doesn’t really need more of. This isn’t some sleepy halt, after Ipswich, it’s the second busiest railway station in Suffolk. According to the bobbins local quango 1st East, the new position is “at the heart of the town, with shops, offices and restaurants around it set off by a waterfront people can get to and not cut off by the railway line”. If my calculations are right, the new station would be right by Lidl, which while a good shop, is not at the “heart of town”. The station is already at the heart of town. The people of Lowestoft are being hoodwinked. Everyone will have further to walk to get their trains, the centre of town will be cut off, and the only ones benefiting will be the property developers and the Waveney District Council numpties that they’re courting. National Rail is against it, the local railway provider is against it, and so’s anyone with any sense locally. We should be campaigning for a new roof on the existing station, and a full restoration, not the further emasculation of the old place.

This time last week, I was in Cornwall, with several quarts of St Austell brewery’s very fine Proper Job lapping around my back teeth. The occasion was the wedding of some friends and it all went off beautifully, despite the heavens opening during the marquee-bound ceremony, rendering the registrar inaudible. I didn’t even look at the television once during my stay, which would have been unthinkable even 6 years ago. One of the great excitements of my childhood holidays was to see a different TV region’s output and bring home different editions of the Radio Times and TV Times. We never went to the west country, so I never saw anything of Gus Honeybun until adulthood, when I was given some recordings by a similarly-afflicted friend, including this Ed Welchfest, which is, I think, the one that Phil Norman’s on about in the comments.

However, I had a pretty good working knowledge of Granada and Anglia from holidays in Blackpool and Great Yarmouth, while visits to relatives in Portsmouth scratched my Southern/TVS itch. On a school trip to Wales in 1985, I peered through people’s windows to get a glimpse of S4C.

I haven’t changed, but television has. For one thing, I can see all of the different regional variations from my Suffolk sofa, thanks to digital satellite. For another, the regional variations aren’t terribly varied anymore. A couple of decades ago, it was impossible to look at TV listings without noticing something being shown in a far off land called Tyne Tees or Grampian that appealed more than whatever Thames or LWT were pumping out at that moment in time. Either that or you’d missed the start of something, which was being shown an later in the evening on Yorkshire. All of this is without getting started on the in-vision continuity announcers, the best of whom – Redvers Kyle, Philip Elsmore, John Benson, Arfon Haines Davies – became inextricably linked with the areas they spoke to. What I wouldn’t have given for access to all of the regions and a pile of E180s back then. Sadly, it’s going to get even less varied and interesting, if ITV is allowed to merge regions, as it currently wishes.

Visiting my mother on the way back from Cornwall, I glanced at her Daily Mirror. The front page story concerned the furore over ex-TVS autocutie Fern Britton’s gastric band. The choicest quote from the story: “One fan said ‘This is the most sickening act of deception I think I have come across’.”. It’s a doozie on so many levels. Firstly, isn’t it a bit of an over-reaction to be “sickened” by a mild porkie told by someone you’ve only ever seen on telly? Secondly, if it’s the “most sickening act of deception you think [not quite sure, though, eh?] you’ve ever heard”, you must have led a hell of a sheltered life. Thirdly, is it a more sickening act of deception than that perpetrated by the journalist who so obviously made you up, you anonymous non-existent twat? Although she omitted one important, nay crucial, detail, Fern Britton was telling the truth when she said that diet and exercise were the cause of her impressive weight loss. A gastric band is a head start, not the Victor Ludorum trophy. I’ve known people who’ve undergone the procedure and remained fat bastards simply because they managed, by dint of applied noshing, to re-build their gut to its pre-op capacity.

Elsewhere in this sorry rag (What’s that sound? Oh it’s Hugh Cudlipp rotating in his grave at warp speed) is the tale of a mother who shopped her son to the police when she found a knife under his bed. Fair enough, tough love, he’ll be grateful one day, etc. Until that is you see the picture. It’s a perfectly normal round ended piece of cutlery. The poor lad was probably just buttering toast in bed. It seems that in the modern world, and especially in the tabloids, for every action, there is an unequal but opposite over-reaction.