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Month: November 2009

So, Ian Hart remonstrating with a ‘disruptive’ audience member was understandable, was it? I prefer Sir John Gielgud’s approach, which was to rise above it and press on. At one point in the 1950s, the great actor found himself working with a young man heavily in the thrall of Pinter. It might even have been Pinter himself, I’m not entirely sure. After an epic pause, the kindly Gielgud asked the young thesp a question: “Dear boy, why are you leaving these enormous pauses?”. The young chap replied that it was all the rage at RADA now. Gielgud’s reply was majestic. “It’s nothing new, dear boy. I went through a similar phase myself until one night when, in the middle of a lengthy, dramatic pause, I heard from the stalls a cry of ‘You horrible beast, you’ve just come all over my umbrella’.” I wonder how Ian Hart would have dealt with that one?

Sitting in Humanities 2 at the British Library, wrestling with a pile of Radiotimes bound volumes in the interests of research, a programme billing from April 1979 leapt out at me. “8.10pm – Accident. A drama series in eight episodes. In the confusion of a road accident ten lives are mixed in a jig-saw of past and present.” If you ever wondered what Anthony Horowitz was watching on Wednesday nights 30 years ago, now you know.

I’ve just taken a momentous decision. When my current stock of blank minidiscs is exhausted, I’m going to buy one of those new flash drive-based digital audio recorders – a Zoom or a Tascam of some description. There are 18 shrink-wrapped discs on the shelf in front of me, and a couple of part-used discs with over an hour of recording time in mono mode left, should I need them. I reckon those 18 discs should allow me to do all the interviews I need for the book I’m currently working on (very slowly, but I’ve just started to regain a tiny bit of momentum after the events of what Americans would call 9/24, thanks for asking). I have three working portable minidisc machines (one of which has power issues when using the internal battery, which means I’ve got to search for the nasty, plasticky screw-on gewgaw that enables the user to shove in a bog-standard AA – I could be gone some time. It’s a Sony, whereas the brace of Sharps have a built in AA compartment, just one of many reasons why the Sharp portables were so much better than the Sonys), and a small family of stereo condenser microphones, and I’m hoping they’ll see me through this project as well. I reached the conclusion when I was thinking “Have I got enough blanks left?” earlier. I was on the verge of buying another 10 from an Amazon Marketplace seller for just under a tenner, when I thought “I’m going to have to move on sooner or later, and this tenner is 1/15 of the cost of a spanking new machine that will allow me to transfer the audio to my computer losslessly and not in real time. What a world that would be. Best hold fire, then”. Memories of clearing out my local Aldi’s stock of bargain BASF 8mm video cassettes immediately before my 8mm camcorder breathed its last also popped into my mind. Why not get a super zippy modern doodah now? Until I finish this book, any money coming into schloss Cheeseford is earmarked for luxuries like bread and shoes. That’s a good gag. I wonder who came up with it?

Memo to BBC News and other media outlets: Celebrity has very mild disagreement with mildly critical fan is not a major story. However, a few people have said to me “Come now, it’s not Stephen Fry’s fault that the BBC has over-reacted in this way”. It is, though. Fry has made such a big deal of Twitter, to the point that I would describe him as a shill if I didn’t love him and his work so much. He’s created the interest. A (hopefully temporarily) depressed Fry reacted badly to an observation that seems to me to be on the mild side of fair comment. However, the trouble is that a man of his intelligence can’t not have known that his loyal followers would react in the way that they did, which reflects badly on him. He would also have had a fairly shrewd idea that it would be picked up by the media, if not of the undue prominence they gave it. To be fair, though, depression is the enemy of rational thought.

Still, it’s all been dealt with now, with Fry admitting to feeling foolish. Well, yes. Come here you big lummox and have a cuddle. If there is a story left to report, it’s the unpleasant reaction of Alan Davies. One Twitterer sent a message to Fry saying “@stephenfry Please don’t be a grumpytrousers. You’re much-loved – go get yourself a non-cyber hug immediately”. Davies reacted to the whole business with “Anyone who thinks that @stephenfry could even fabricate a toss about anything @brumplum or any such moron says ought to stop worrying”. The ‘grumpytrousers’ poster tackled Davies (hopefully while wearing ear protection) with “There’s no need to be offensive. @brumplum said he adored @stephenfry but his tweets could be a bit dull. That’s not moronic”. Davies hit back with “yes it is moronic, you should know , being a moron yourself”. From there, it escalated, with Davies calling everyone who dared to pass comment a ‘moron’, ‘tosser’, ‘halfwit’, ‘dickhead’, ‘idiotic’ or a ‘prat’, clearly unaware that he was confirming his own idiotic comic persona by doing so. Finally, Davies concluded that “Anyone has a pop at your mates you stick up for them.Twittr needs to be more like Essex.If you wouldn’t say it to their face then do shut up”. Which bit of Essex, Alan? Dedham Vale on a tranquil Sunday or Basildon on a Saturday night? Fry has apologised to brumplum for all of the abuse he’s received. He should now have a quiet, schoolmasterly word with Davies, who has been one of the principal abusers.

Davies, in his ham-fisted and oafish* way, does make an interesting point. I’ve never said anything online I wouldn’t say to someone’s face, but some find it easy to hide behind a persona and be the fearless fighter that they wouldn’t dare be in real life. Tools like Twitter create an artificial intimacy between fans and celebrities, and when you are intimate with someone, you feel able to say whatever you like to them. This started mildly, and ended in the same way. The next time a fan criticises their hero on a social networking site, it might not be so seemly. A celebrity might ‘follow’ you and might reply to your messages occasionally. However, you do not know them. They do not know you. Proceed accordingly. Celebrities too have a responsibility to make the ground rules clear.

I’m trying to think of an historical equivalent, but I can’t. It’s a product of the technology. In 1978, Stan Boardman didn’t ring everyone up to call them a cunt when Tom O’Connor went ex-directory. Welcome to the modern world.

* EDIT – 21/2/2010 – I’ve substituted ‘oafish’ for the original, stronger description of Davies’ manner, as Davies is now Twittering about “libellous blogging”. The original term was, I believe, defensible as fair comment, but defending it on those grounds would take more time and effort than I’m prepared to put in. I’ve also removed a couple of comments, which, while true, also come under the heading of “can I really be arsed?”.