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Month: March 2009

For years, I’ve wanted to catch one of Ken Dodd’s marathon performances, but, when he comes to the Marina in Lowestoft, he always sells out before a single poster can be put up to publicise the show. Thanks to a friend who’s on the theatre’s mailing list, I got in this time, and am unbelievably glad that I did. Much is made of the length of his shows: well, it ran for 5 hours, but felt like a very well-paced 2. I’ve known some comics who can make a 7-minute spot seem like weeks.

Some say he’s the last of a rare breed, but, even in the glory days of variety, there was only ever one Ken Dodd. I’m not going to paraphrase any of the jokes. Only he can do them justice (some of the material has whiskers, but his delivery rejuvenates even the oldest, corniest gags). All I’ll say is that if you have even the merest hint of a sense of humour, you must go and see him. I was lucky enough to go back after the show and say hello, having helped Roy Waller interview him on BBC Radio Norfolk last week. I gave him a copy of Turned Out Nice Again, he gave me a tickling stick. I’ll be sure to treasure it.

Bonanza night on BBC4 – Dave Brubeck Quartet in Jazz 625 at 7.30pm, Dizzy Gillespie in Jazz 625 at 11pm, with 1959: the Year that Changed Jazz at 10pm. Caveat 1: these are the completely pointless early 1990s BBC2 re-edits of Jazz 625 with celebrity introductions (EDIT: I’ve never been happier to be wrong. Despite the billing indicating that the Slim Gaillard-introduced re-edit would be used, Brubeck was the 1964 original with Steve Race all present and correct. I’ll forgive the periodically-wowing audio track and the couple of seconds missing at the start of ‘Sounds of the Loop’. EDIT 2: Gillespie is the Humph-fronted original, not the Neneh Cherry-led repackaging I’ve endured for 20 years. I am wanking as I write this.). Caveat 2: I’m not sure that an equally cogent case couldn’t be made for just about any year between 1935 and 1965. However, glass half-full and all that. Here’s a bit from the Brubeck show – the awesome power of Joe Morello much to the fore:

Hey kids. Come and join me on Twitter. I am chronicling each of my bowel movements in as much detail as I can in 140 characters. I can’t help but feel that this is what all communications technology has been working towards since the invention of the telegraph.

Glad tidings for missing episode hunters. News reaches us from Vienna of a 2-inch quad tape of Josef Fritzl’s appearance on the Austrian version of Ask the Family being found, misfiled, in the ORF archives. Meanwhile, there are unconfirmed reports from the BBC archives at Windmill Road, Brentford, that a reel of 16mm mute Ektachrome featuring Jade Goody being chased by a gigantic Dougal has been found propping up a coffee machine in the Film Exam department.

An interesting line appears in Anthony Quinn’s Independent review of Lesbian Vampire Killers (I do love a good rom-com), starring Mathew Horne and James Corden. Says Quinn: “A loveable pair of mates in Gavin and Stacey, here they have flagrantly overstretched their appeal, and now look in danger of becoming the Hale and Pace de nos jours”.

I’m afraid that Horne and Corden can only dream of being the new Hale and Pace. I’ve caught a few editions of Hale and Pace on Men & Motors recently, and they’re actually half-decent sketch shows. Proper jokes, good solid comic performances and all the stuff that seems to be an optional extra in a lot of TV comedy now. The lows are pretty low, but the highs consist of good material, put over with gusto. I remember being underwhelmed at the time, but they stand up surprisingly well, especially in comparison to most of what we’ve been getting in recent years.

Talking of what passes for comic genius now, I’ve just stumbled across this unpublished article, written for the Oldie‘s Rant column. The editor decided, probably quite reasonably, that attacks on individuals weren’t the sort of thing he wanted to include, and so persuaded me to write about people who take up the bike space on trains with their luggage instead, Anyway, here it is:

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Like God and poverty, Ricky Gervais is everywhere. Otherwise sane and rational adults rave about Extras, while believing The Office to be neither as clever nor funny as its creators thought is pure H.M. Bateman material. Sadly, I can’t see or hear him without wanting to put an anvil through my television. Not being a blacksmith and knowing how to switch off, order is maintained, but I still wonder how such a mugging ninny became the saviour of television comedy.

Admittedly, he came in at a perfect juncture, with commissioners actively seeking out the unfunny. Channel 4’s Eleven O’Clock Show was one of the worst comedy programmes ever made and Gervais was the best thing on it. Amid such rubbish, a mediocre comic could only shine.

His stand-up act relies heavily on jokes about race and disability. I can’t work out what winds me up more: being told that something is never a suitable subject for humour or a middle-class white man doing darkie and spaz jokes behind a slender and not entirely convincing veil of irony. He’s just Bernard Manning with a better tailor and worse timing.

His supporters say he does comedy of embarrassment. It seems more to me like the comedy of inflating his ego. When David Bowie appeared in Extras and sang an insulting song about Gervais’ character, it seemed self-deprecating, but the subtext seemed more like “I’m a major celebrity, these are my major celebrity friends who want to be in my hit show. I own entertainment”.

Why do I know so much about his work? I’m a big comedy fan, and I want to enjoy new things. Maybe it’s me? Maybe I’m missing something? So I watch him, hoping to be dazzled, and each time conclude that everyone else is mad, misguided and stupid. Time to visit Anvils R Us.

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Nearly 3 years after I wrote that, people whose opinions I otherwise respect still can’t see Gervais for the chancer he is, a man who’s made a very meagre endowment of talent go an unfeasibly long way. Am I missing something or is everyone else wrong?

Tom Driberg has long been a figure of fascination to me. He was a life-long friend of Evelyn Waugh and John Betjeman, a man of the left, a rapacious homosexual, a disciple of both Lord Beaverbrook and Aleister Crowley and an alleged double agent. About 20 years ago (tempus fugit, etc), Francis Wheen wrote an excellent biography of Driberg, and, last night on BBC4, William G Stewart added to the sum of Dribergian knowledge with an excellent documentary on his friend and former employer.

Yes, the same William G Stewart that presented Fifteen to One and produced The Price is Right. Although he’s probably best known for his game show work, Stewart’s one of the cleverest and most versatile operators in television. Among his other achievements, he produced Bless This House and directed David Frost’s demolition of insurance fraudster Emil Savundra. When I interviewed him in 2005 for my book Turned Out Nice Again, he explained that Frost could go from interviewing heads of state to presenting Through the Keyhole because, whatever the vehicle, the important thing was communication. Watching this informal but very informative documentary, I realised the same could be said about Stewart, a fundamentally serious-minded man and one of LE’s genuine intellectuals. Had it not been for Grace Wyndham-Goldie’s snobbish inability to countenance employing a man who hadn’t been to university, he might well have made his name in current affairs instead. Certainly, the contacts he made in his time as Driberg’s assistant would have come in very useful.

This is as good a place as any to note something that I didn’t have space for in the book. He rescued Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush after an utterly disastrous pilot. Not being an insecure sort, Stewart downplays his contribution, saying that Chris Evans, John Revell et al were very nearly there, and just needed someone with a bit more experience to tell them what worked and what didn’t before they found out the hard way. Evans and Revell tell a different story, and say that without Stewart there would have been no show worthy of transmission.

The paperback edition of Turned Out Nice Again is out in the summer, and the nice people at Atlantic want me to send them any corrections and amendments arising from the hardback by the end of the month. If you read the hardback and anything struck you as erroneous or suspect, I’d love to hear from you as soon as possible on le@louisbarfe.com. Thanks in advance. No, really.

Being an adult and moderately shameless, I haven’t felt embarrassed in a shop for years. I could quite merrily barge into a particularly eclectic retail emporium and request sex toys, hardcore pornography and a Richard Clayderman LP without a second’s hesitation. Yesterday, however, I came as close to being abashed as I’ve ever been.

The record-cleaning fluid that came with my Knosti Disco-Antistat (see Cheeseford passim) is getting a bit dirty, as you might expect. However, I resent paying £15 for a bottle of isopropyl alcohol, de-ionised water and washing-up liquid. So, I did the rounds of Lowestoft’s pharmacies, asking whether they sold isopropyl alcohol. A couple said they could order it, but one responded to my query with a very firm “no”. Unless I’m very much mistaken, from the steely look in her eye, the woman behind the counter wanted to add “I know your type and it disgusts me”. I did think of adding cheerfully that it was for cleaning records and tape heads, but I thought that would only make matters worse.

I slunk off and thought I’d try Superdrug before I gave up. There the pharmacist was unable to oblige with the goods, but incredibly helpful. He asked if it was for record cleaning, and explained that if he stocked it, he’d have to have flame-retardent cabinets all over the place. He also seemed to recall that he’d seen it in B&Q once. No joy there, either, so I ended up ordering it on eBay. Make mine a large one.

I knew Kecske Bak was a man of taste and distinction, and his response to yesterday’s Nick Lowe posting merely underlines the fact. I responded by citing ‘All Men Are Liars’ from 1990’s Party of One album as an example of Basher’s greatness, and, in a spirit of show, don’t tell, here it is. There’s also a full band version on the ‘Tube with Paul Carrack, Bobby Irwin and (I think) Steve Donnelly, but I find this unplugged version oxymoronically electrifying. I now have a sudden urge to dig out Jesus of Cool, if only to hear ‘Nutted by Reality’. “Well I heard they castrated Castro, they cut off everything he had…” is one of the great opening lines of the last 50 years. Incidentally, the guitar in the clip is a Gibson J180 Everly Brothers model. When I bought my acoustic in 1994, I went for the cheaper Epiphone version, purely because Lowe and Costello had the Gibson. That’s the power of Lowe.

Nearly 15 years of bafflement and anxiety have just come to an end. That’s the length of time I’ve been familiar with ‘Love Gets Strange’ by Nick Lowe on his 1988 album Pinker and Prouder than Previous, and the length of time I’ve been trying to work out the chords on guitar. I assumed that it was beyond my meagre skills, but as most of Basher’s excellent back catalogue can be expressed in four chords at most, I thought it unlikely. I worked out a set of chords that sort of got me through the song unaccompanied (G E Am D on the verses, G F C and one I couldn’t quite get on the chorus), but were at noticeable variance with the pitch of the record. The one thing that never occurred to me until just now was that they might have speeded up the master tape. So, I twiddled the pitch control on the turntable until my chords fitted, and once the spot had been found, guess what, Basher’s voice sounded more natural and, well, Nick Lowe-ish. It’s a subtle difference, but it’s been like taking off a pair of tight shoes. And, as the icing on the cake, I’ve just located the long-lost jewel case for Two Against Nature for Steely Dan, which had fallen down behind a bookshelf. Call it low-effort spring cleaning.