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Month: September 2009

The other day, I did something I haven’t done for ages. I read the Guardian. In it was a long article by a Guardian hack about how he had revolutionised his life and electricity bills by switching entirely to low-energy light bulbs over the last six months. Maybe I was in a bad mood when I read the article, but there seemed to be an overwhelming air of “aren’t I great?” sanctimony about the whole affair, with this chap clearly regarding himself as some kind of frontiersman.

I am not a journalist for the nation’s most environmentally minded newspaper, and yet Schloss Cheeseford has been equipped from basement to attic with low-energy bulbs for the last 13 years (with the last 1996 original only just having come out of service). Given that they cost over a tenner apiece when I began my own energy-saving crusade, I think I’d be able to write a better (and more sanctimonious) article about the wonder of CFLs than some Johnny-come-lately who waited until they were 50p a go, and who seems to have more light sources in his modest townhouse than Pinewood Studios. However, I know that if I’d pitched just such an article, I’d have been lucky to receive a polite rejection note. So, how do these people get these dull, obvious articles commissioned? Compromising negatives of the commissioning editor? Being able to call the commissioning editor Dad? What ever it is, I don’t got it.

What I do got is a fractured distal humerus, my Grauniad reading having been something I did to pass the time in hospital. I go back in on Tuesday to have some fairly serious ironmongery inserted into my arm. Cruelly, it was my right arm, so typing is out of the question, and I find myself dictating this painfully slowly into a computer that throws up interesting alternatives for the words that I thought I said. Knowing my luck, I will now be deluged with commissions that I am unable to fulfil. I am now off to buy some incandescent bulbs which am going to leave on all of the time. So there.

Justin Lee Collins says that Brucie should step down from hosting Strictly Come Dancing. He’s right.

There should always be a space for Brucie on British television, but it shouldn’t necessarily be a weekly live show that usually runs for over an hour. When he was on the Gen Game, he was the best ringmaster TV’s ever had – watch those old recordings and you’ll see a man in complete control of his domain, making sure that hapless punters hit their marks and get the laughs. The Equity strike-bound Sunday Night at the London Palladium featuring just him and Norman Wisdom is a breathless masterclass in entertainment, and I speak as someone for whom a little Wisdom goes a very very long way. Unfortunately, I can’t watch Strictly without thinking “Oh, Bruce, no” far too many times for my own good.

As in so many things, Wogan leads the way. He’s going from the Radio 2 breakfast show on his own terms, with ratings higher than ever, and with the grace to wish his successor the very best. I think the experience of his BBC1 chat show still haunts him – he overstayed his welcome there and had to take a lot of flak from the press as a result. Live and learn. He also stepped down from the Eurovision Song Contest on an apparent point of principle, with honour intact. Despite being one of his greatest fans, I sensed him descending further into self-parody year by year, and am glad he got out when he did. The only downer there was that the commentary job didn’t go to Paddy O’Connell, who gets Eurosong utterly and would have been great, but I have to admit that my dire predictions for Graham Norton’s commentary didn’t come to pass, and the whole experience began an unlikely rehabilitation of Norton, compounded by his pitch-perfect ‘one foot in the grave’ dig at Michael McIntyre on BAFTA night.

As I type, a solution has occurred to me. Make Forsyth one of the judges. He’d be there and he could bring his full experience to bear on the situation, but he wouldn’t have to carry the whole show. Failing that, just shove him in TC1 with a piano, an orchestra, Tarby, Lynchy, some chairs, some tap shoes and an audience. Agreeing with Justin Lee Collins is slightly annoying, by the way. I hear from people in the industry that he’s a sweetie, and that’s nice to know, but it doesn’t stop me thinking that he should step down from television.

On Facebook, a friend of mine was musing about the cost of certain items in certain high street stores. Knowing him to be a man of sense, I expressed amazement that he bothered with the high street for anything anymore. I bought both of my computers online – the desktop machine I’m typing this on now was two-thirds of the price of an identical unit in PC World, while the laptop came from PC World’s website, and was an exclusive online offer. I get through a lot of blank DVDs, and am consistently astonished at the price high street stores expect me to pay. My DVD recorder came from, and was half the price of the same unit anywhere else. A while back, I needed a replacement mini-jack for my headphones. Maplin wanted £2.99, for which price I could get 5 of the buggers from a chap on eBay. Finally, as one of the few people left still using a fountain pen (I think it’s just me and my GP), I’ve been wondering why you can get green and purple Parker cartridges on the continent but not in Britain. Answer – you can get them here, if you go to the Battersea Pen Home. If you have a credit card, a computer and a willingness to wait a couple of days for the stuff to arrive, buying online is the way forward.

Of course, there are some things that money can’t buy (mainly because they’re crap), and in my journalistic career, I’ve amassed a fair few of them. Promotional mugs seem to proliferate – a recent purge of the cupboard brought forth a green one for 30 years of Picador books, a black ‘Wake up and smell the coffee’ one for Bloomsbury’s Encarta dictionary, and a rather nice bone china one extolling the virtues of Sutton Publishing’s historical titles. Having amassed enough pleasing non-promotional drinking vessels, including a repro White Star Line Titanic-era 3rd class mug and a superb ‘Yorkshire Television Colour Production’ mug hand made by my good friend Marcus Bernard of TV Ark, the publishing freebies are going to the charity shop, even ‘Wake up and smell Nigel Newton’s bank balance’. This has, however, set me to wondering what was the best freebie I’ve ever received? On balance, it’s probably the Pure Evoke 1 digital radio in the kitchen, given to selected hacks in the glory days of Oneword, although the Weidenfeld and Nicolson 50th anniversary anthology that I got signed by both Lord Weidenfeld and Nigel Nicolson is a keeper, as is the t-shirt promoting my mate Andy Miller’s book Tilting at Windmills (Slogan: “A hollow victory is still a victory”), even though it has never ever fit me. Does anyone else have good free stuff to declare?

This blog has a new crusade. It is to get every right-thinking person with an Internet connection to pass critical comment on the strange-looking, dull-sounding Chris de Burgh. This isn’t unpleasantness for unpleasantness’ sake. The idea is to get the multi-talentless cousin of Roly Mo writing so many letters and emails accusing people of being ‘bitter and unfulfilled’ that he never sings a single hemi-demi-semi-quaver again in his life. Go on, you know it makes sense.

Oi, Chris. Your music’s shit and you look like the badger world’s most notorious nonce.

How not to respond to a bad review: Writing a letter to the reviewer, calling them ‘bitter and unfulfilled’ and inventing childish names. Like Chris de Burgh just has. Hasn’t the stumpy peddler of mediocrity got enough money not to give a tinker’s cuss what anyone thinks of him? Also, does he not realise that this very act shows him to be ‘bitter and unfulfilled’ himself? Why else would a multi-million selling artist need the validation of a newspaper critic? Is it because he knows he’s NBG? Finally, referring to the reviewer, Peter Crawley, as ‘Creepy Crawley’ is a bit rich coming from one of the most sinister-looking creatures in the pop business.

Normally I have no interest in the comings and goings of Jack Tweed, but I found myself reading The Snu the other day and puzzling over a detail of the report of his arrest. Tweed has been charged with rape, but his co-accused has not. The paper described the sexual activity involved as a “roasting”. Now, I have no practical experience of said manoeuvre, but my understanding of it is that it involves two gentlemen partaking equally of a lady’s pleasures, one at each end. Not being a lawyer, I don’t know how this works, but if it was rape, shouldn’t both men have been charged? Can anyone explain to me why Tweed has been and his mate hasn’t?

For a couple of years or so, the bookshelf above my monitor has had an A5 envelope poked between the paperbacks, containing various items of correspondence. The content is nothing stunning or revelatory, but they’re things I’d like to keep safe all the same. With this in mind, I’ve been eyeing them up for ages thinking “Must put that envelope away somewhere”. So I did, and now I can’t find it. It’s not too much of a worry, as I know that the moment I stop looking for it, it’ll turn up. That happened last week with a tape recorder manual. Shortly after locating a PDF on the Internet, I found my yellowing hard copy. If I weren’t so dismissive of such things, I’d blame a playful spirit.

So farewell then, Keith Waterhouse. While I find his later novels near-unreadable, I’ve always had a soft spot for his earlier work, and he was one of the few good things in the Daily Mail. Apart from which, how could one not love a human being who so clearly set out to resemble a spaniel?

Sad news indeed about Simon Dee. I made contact with him when I was researching Turned Out Nice Again and I have a couple of very cordial letters from him. Sadly, I was already about a year late with the manuscript when I found him, and I never did make it to Winchester. Fortunately, I had plenty of background on his chat show years from producers and executives, and I tried to be as fair as I could. I had to note their comments that he was a bloody nightmare to work with, but I also had to make clear his importance in the history of the chat show – in UK terms, Dee and Eamonn Andrews laid the foundations – and also to give praise where it was due. On his day, he was a good interviewer – someone who listened and engaged his brain accordingly, but who also had the chutzpah to ask the apparently unaskable. Unfortunately, he seemed to believe his own publicity, and, I suspect, also suffered from bad management. As a result, he alienated the people he needed most, and in later life seemed more inclined to blame a nebulous conspiracy for his downfall, rather than his own hubris. As Bill Cotton said “There was a time when he was a very powerful force on British television and he could have gone anywhere. But he was just a bloody fool”. Indeed, but his show was one where magic sometimes happened, and I make no apologies for reminding you all of this from the 21 September 1968 Dee Time: