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Month: November 2008

Yesterday, I had a very illuminating conversation with Harry King of BBC Radio Cumbria. On Monday evenings, he presents a weekly delve into entertainment nostalgia, and wants to feature Turned Out Nice Again on his show. Which is nice.

However, in a former life, Harry was a Border Television man, producing and directing programmes like Mr & Mrs and Look Who’s Talking for the ITV network. As ITV stands now, it’s astonishing to think that two popular network shows could come from one of the smallest regional companies. Having visited Border in the early 1990s when a friend worked there and seen the size of the studio they used for quiz shows and chat shows with a live audience, it’s even more astonishing. I’ve just hoiked Television and Radio 1984 off the shelf, and it says that Border’s biggest studio was 94 square metres. At BBC Television Centre, the old N1 news studio (now TC10, used for very small, simple productions) was 111 square metres. Sadly, the Durranhill studios are not long for this world, with the Border region set to be rationalised out of existence in the digital switchover.

They were good shows too, not parochial. Look Who’s Talking regularly got top entertainment names up to Carlisle for a chat with Derek Batey. Border also made some big shows for Channel 4, not least The Groovy Fellers with Jools Holland and Rowland Rivron – which was a truly great example of what can happen when funny people are sent off to apparently random places with a camera crew in tow. Streets ahead of Paul India in Merton, certainly.

Now, just about everything studio-based ITV show is made in London, Manchester or, to a lesser degree, Leeds. Gone is Anglia’s fine tradition of drama programming and Sale of the Century. No more children’s programmes from Southern/TVS. No more That’s My Dog from Plymouth. With the BBC determined to evict as much programming as possible from Wood Lane, London, W12 8QT, it seems odd that ITV is consolidating like mad and concentrating production in a handful of expensive bits of city centre real estate, rather than building on its regional expertise.

Last night was the Literary Review Bad Sex in Literary Fiction award, so this morning is the Literary Review Bad Sex in Literary Fiction award hangover. Over the last couple of years, the party’s been supported by Hendrick’s gin, and I’ve felt the need to support them in return. Ouch.

Rachel Johnson – sister of Boris – won the prize, and John Updike – who’s been nominated for the award four times, got a lifetime achievement award in absentia, to mark his ‘always the bridesmaid’ status.


  • Alexander Waugh’s always-superb speech – definitely his father’s son in the best possible way
  • Nancy dell’Olio reading Updike’s acceptance speech
  • Meeting Georgina Baillie in the cloakroom queue and drunkenly asking her what it’s like to have such a gracious, cool, unflappable grandad and instructing her to give him a hug from me. I think she thought I was a tabloid scumbucket trying to catch her out, because she clammed up completely. You can supply your own punchline. I’m far too gentlemanly.

Today, I had my first eye test in five years. After the compressed air in the eyeball and the ‘clearer/more blurred’ thing with the different lenses, brer optician told me that my eyesight hadn’t changed at all since my last test, and that I needed new glasses only if I fancied a change or the old ones were falling apart.

As it happens, I do fancy a change, as, like just about every other four-eyed git in Britain, I have little oblong specs, because they seem to be the only ones you can get. I don’t like them, though. I’d quite like something that improves my peripheral vision as well as the main focus. Little oblong jobs don’t do that. I have it on good authority that Hank Marvin wears big glasses partly because they’re his trademark, but also because with little frames, he wouldn’t be able to see his guitar properly when he glances down.

When I was at university, I affected a pair of round tortoiseshell specs that can only be described as Richard Wattis-chic. They came from Specsavers – bliss it was in that dawn to be alive. No chance that they’d carry similar styles now, the swines. Fortunately, Opera Opera in London have very similar frames in stock. They know how to charge, but as they have them custom-made in Britain, rather than stamped out in an oriental sweat shop, that’s understandable. They also offer them in clear plastic, which would be wonderful as long as I don’t wear them with a dark suit. I admire Jonathan Meades too much to invite even superficial comparisons.

Back to the high street: in one shop, I asked why all of the glasses on display were little, oblong jobs. The assistant replied “There’s no call for any other kind, sir”. I replied that I was calling for them, couldn’t find any anywhere and that maybe, just maybe, there would be some other calls for them if they had any in stock. “We tried, sir, but no-one wanted them”. Having a suspicion that I was well over halfway round a circular argument, I gave up. I also suspected that the alternative styles they’d tried had come from the Dennis Nilsen Serial-Killer-About-Muswell-Hill range. So, what’s the story there? Does an optometric insider have the skinny on skinny glasses? What, to be frank, are they trying to pull?

STOP PRESS: I’ve gone for these in tortoiseshell. Named after the Two Ronnies and only £34. It had to be done.

In his Sunday Telegraph review of Turned Out Nice Again, Peter Bazalgette thought I hadn’t concentrated enough on the independent production sector. As it turns out, it’s a good job I didn’t write any more than I did, because former National Museum of Photography, Film & Television curator and good chap Ian Potter has done a whole book on the subject. My copy’s on order, and I’ll report back further when I’ve read it, but I suspect it’ll be essential reading for anyone interested in recent TV history.

I’ve expressed my alarm at the acres of coverage being given to John Sergeant’s exit from Strictly Come Dancing by adding to the acres of coverage with a piece in today’s Sunday Telegraph. With any luck, I’ll be forgiven any hypocrisy and opportunism for the fact that I seized the opportunity to suggest a robust British alternative to the awful Americanism ‘water cooler TV’. Long live the ‘tea-urn moment’.

Two reviews in today’s blatts. In the Times, Brian Schofield is unimpressed, but says so in such a reasonable and constructive manner that I can’t complain. In the Telegraph (not yet online), Sinclair McKay is full of enthusiasm, for which I thank him profusely.

In other news, I can report with great pleasure that I have accepted a modest advance from a small left-wing press to pen an unauthorised biography of Jon Gaunt.

Danny Baker’s back on Saturday morning national radio, and it’s fab. It’s 1994 again, but in a good way. Zoe Ball’s not disgracing the set up, either. He’s currently reeling in the Radio 2 massive with all the greatest hits. A mate’s sent me a message to ask how long before he’s calling the register, and I reckon we’ll be on ‘How nuts is your mum?’ before too long. He’s not played this yet, but give it time.

I’ve noticed that most of the comments on this blog come from people I know and with whom I have drunk, often heavily. If anybody else is chancing upon these ramblings, don’t be a stranger. Come say hello.

So, John Sergeant has pulled out of Strictly Come Dancing. It was a lose-lose situation. His ongoing presence made a mockery of the dance competition, but his absence now makes a mockery of the voters’ wishes. Still, let’s keep a sense of proportion. It shouldn’t be the lead story on every bulletin, but it will be.

If his exit is the result of a decent man deciding his own fate, fair enough, but if it was another case of the BBC shitting itself in the face of adverse newspaper coverage, the fact will emerge eventually and make matters far far worse for Auntie.

Meanwhile, TalkSport’s long-overdue sacking of Jon Gaunt, the Poundland Don Imus, means that he now has more time to spend with his gorgeous wife Lisa and his beautiful daughters Rosie and Bethany. Lucky them. I well remember peeing myself laughing when I read this and present it again for your amusement.

Encouragingly, Amazon’s first order of Turned Out Nice Again has sold out, despite, or perhaps because of, my decision to add the “…this book is not worth reading” bit of Shabba Hanks’ Independent write-up to the product description underneath all the nice review quotes. Don’t panic, more copies are on order. I suspect the power of wireless helped enormously – many authors would sell a kidney to get two hours talking to East Anglia. Anyway, if you have bought it, thank you, and if you’ve received a freebie from the publisher, I hope you can get a good price for it. Moreover, if you haven’t bought it, we know where you live. Your honest appraisals are always welcome. To use an old phrase beloved of the profession: if you liked the show, tell your friends; but if you didn’t like it, tell us. Or, either way, you can write an Amazon review.