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Month: December 2009

Doing the BBC’s work for them

Doing the BBC’s work for them

While programmes of dubious merit get trailed to death, I’ve seen nothing to promote BBC4’s repeat of the Faces’ 1972 Sounds for Saturday performance. It’s on tomorrow – New Year’s Day – at 22.50, and having seen clips on various things, I can’t wait to see it all the way through. The following cover of ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ is from the show and it’s just jaw-droppingly fantastic. I love Macca’s original, but this tears the song a new arse. Lovely relatively gentle opening vocal from Ronnie Lane before Rod the Mod takes over, and just listen to Kenney Jones, whacking the Ludwigs in a manner that would have made John Bonham doff his cap. It’s quite simply the sound of a great band at the top of their game.

Same procedure as last year?

Same procedure as last year?

Well, it’s New Year’s Eve, or as the Germans call it ‘Silvester’. A rather endearing Silvester ritual is the tendency of their TV networks to put out a strange little English music hall sketch called Dinner for One (see left for its stranglehold over the New Year’s Eve schedules on the regional German stations). I’ve explained the phenomenon before and offered the whole thing as an XviD AVI file for viewing in the comfort of your own home. As the link’s now dead, here it is again, this time in the original monochrome 1963 recording. Happy Hogmanay.

Present tense

Present tense

Merry festivus everyone. I hope the season brought you everything you desired. Personally, I can’t complain. My main presents from Mrs Cheeseford were the Palin diaries volume 2 and Seasonal Suicide Notes by Roger Lewis (the latter of which has just provoked several laughter-fuelled coughing fits in the bath – his footnoted ruminations on the size and purpose of Billie Piper’s mouth were particularly joyous) , with the rest of my gift haul being perishable. And that’s the way I like it. A couple of years ago, I picked up on Mrs Cheeseford’s cogitations on the value of owning a strimmer and bought her one. It has never left its box. Since then, I’ve bought her port, sherry and confectionery, because I know they will be received with delight and used with joy, and not stuffed in the under-stairs cupboard.

When I was a trade press hack, I became incredibly blase about books. If there was anything that took my fancy, I could probably find a copy under a colleague’s desk and swap them one of equivalent value from my pile. Failing that, I could ring a publicist and scrounge one, in return for a commitment to write a diary paragraph on one of their lesser-known wards. I stopped giving books as presents because friends and family knew I’d got them free. Now that I’m forced to pay for literature once again, there are always a couple of titles in the autumn schedules that I know I’ll need. I could buy them myself, but I prefer dropping heavy hints from October onwards (“Have you seen the discounts on books in Asda? Disgraceful. Michael Palin’s diaries are half-price. £10! Madness.”).

I should perhaps mention another book that I received just before Christmas: a copy of 65: My Life So Far by Jonathan King. I’m in the process of writing a review that will hopefully appear in The Oldie. If it doesn’t make it over the editor’s boredom threshold, I’ll post it here. The book itself is overlong, and worth reading with a very sceptical eye, but it’s rarely less than interesting. Madame Arcati‘s already reviewed it at length and had to deal with a shitstorm for not condemning the book and its author utterly. The orthodox view seems to be that “A convicted nonce should not be allowed to write his memoirs. End of.” What about unconvicted nonces? Did anyone organise burnings of Stone Alone back in the day or even murmur slight disapproval when Bill Wyman popped up on The One Show recently? I’m really interested in the relative values at work here. In airplay terms, there’s a D-notice on Gary Glitter’s records, but DJs have no qualms about playing tracks from convicted murderer Phil Spector’s Christmas album. Leslie Grantham must be very grateful that he only killed a man, instead of touching up the doomed cabbie’s daughter.

And so we come to the last day of Advent, and the last window on our calendar. A couple of people have wondered aloud whether it is possible to top yesterday’s entry, a view with which I have some sympathy. Vincent Price predicting Keith Floyd 15 years before his rise to fame is something to savour. However, while the Vincent Price thing is funny, the clip that follows is funny, utterly adorable and just the thing to spread very welcome tidings of comfort and joy. From Christmas Eve 1961, here are Hattie Jacques, Eric Sykes and Billy Cotton with a little help from a Beverley Sisters record. Merry Christmas, grownups.

Nearly there, and to help us to day 24, we have Vincent Price in comedy mode on the 1970 LWT Christmas spectacular Holiday Startime. Your hostess is Australian person Maggie Fitzgibbon. No, me neither.

With barely a couple of minutes of day 22 left, it’s time to open another window. Through this aperture we are whisked back to the late 1980s and Top of the Pops, but not as we know it. Using a library piece that sounds enough like Paul Hardcastle’s ‘The Wizard’ to get the point across, while at the same time sounding absolutely nothing like it at all, this is the opening of the British Gas Video Unit’s attempt to create a pop chart of great inventors, aided by David ‘(Who are you trying to) Kid’ Jensen. The true glory comes when a rather more sober voiceover chap takes over talks of the lasting influence of inventors compared to the “here today, gone tomorrow” impact of pop stars. Up pops a Quantel extravaganza of pop star mugshots. Who, he asks, 20 years on (which is just about now, as it happens) will remember these faces? Yeah, what did happen to Kylie Minogue, Bono and the Pet Shop Boys? If anyone wants to see the rest of this 12-minute edition of Engineering’s Not Dull, just say.

Apologies for the delay. Here are the contents of yesterday’s window back-dated. It’s the Peddlers with an organ shuffle thing called Southern Woman. How does one move like a mustang, exactly? Still, smashing groove.

PS Have this to make up for the delay.

Day 20, and a clip with a personal connection, taken from the 21 February 2001 edition of BBC Breakfast. Tiger Tim Waterstone was threatening to launch a takeover bid for his old company, and, desperate for someone with a bit of book trade nous to fill in the background, reporter Brian Milligan (no relation to Spike, but brother of Stephen) called the offices of Publishing News and asked to speak to chairman and all-round grumpy old sod Fred Newman. Milligan and crew duly turned up and, for some unknown reason, it was agreed that it would be best if Spint (as Fred was known – long story, some of which can be found here) sat on my desk to deliver the piece. So, from about 1:41, you can see a bit of my personalised partition, covered with detritus designed to elicit a chuckle during the darker moments of press day. Just behind Spint’s right ear is the Times obituary for Rev Bill Westwood, former Bishop of Peterborough and father of ‘urban’ music advocate Timothy. If this were in HD, you’d be able to see the rap slang speech bubble that my colleague Ralph Baxter had added to the accompanying picture of the deceased churchman. Then, by Fred’s left ear, you can see a masthead from Simon Heffer’s Daily Mail column with something obscene or absurd (I forget exactly what, but it looks like a pie of some description) scrawled on it by me or Ralph in a moment of severe vexation with the Tory philosopher. You can also see the luxuriant pube-like thatch of Roger ‘Eraserhead’ Tagholm bobbing about in the background, no doubt thinking up clever but unfunny punchlines for the diary page. That’s no judgment of Rog, who is one of the funniest people I know. It was a sort of challenge among him, me and Ralph to put in the most laboured yet unamusing shite we could think of. My personal best was describing Politico’s bookshop as “a home from Douglas-Home”. Geddit? No? Good. Love the misspelling of Spintola’s name and Tanya Beckett’s pay-off, by the way. “A very interesting story, and a very interesting man…indeed. Another interesting man…” [Creak, groan, rictus grin, etc]. We’ll be the judges of that, thank you, Tanya, unless you were talking about Fred, in which case, oh yes. A fascinating study.

A double-yolker for day 19, as a result of YouTube’s 10-minute limit. From the 23 December 1986 edition of Des O’Connor Tonight, here’s a bit of Burly Chassis. Clip 1 is her opening song. Clip 2 is a brief interview segment, then her second song. The interview takes place at a bar, from behind which pops fellow guest…well, just watch it. The plan was obviously to create one of those unpredictable moments that people talk about years later (doubtless this bit would feature in the trailers if the programme were being made now), but you can’t create unpredictability. Nonetheless, Des doubles up and pisses himself gamely. I can only assume that it’s genuine amusement or an act of kindness rather than des-peration. You are permitted to chortle at the cocktail, but that’s all.


Day 18: at some point over the festivities, Two Way Stretch will be watched, as recorded at some point during Christmas 1994. Never mind your Carry Ons or your Ealing comedies, this is the apex of the British comedy film, and it was a favourite of mine and my mate Stephen Evens during our shared drab suburban adolescence. Even if the plot and script weren’t absolutely first-rate, which they are, the presence of Bernard Cribbins, Beryl Reid, Liz Fraser, Irene “You’re obviously mistaking me for an actress who gives a fuck*” Handl, David “I’m Dave Lodge, I was in Cockleshell Heroes” Lodge, Thorley Walters, George Woodbridge, Mario Fabrizi, Maurice Denham and just about all the greats would see you through. Lionel Jeffries is the man of the match, though. It takes a true great to outshine Peter Sellers on peak form, and he did it. Yes, he was superb as the Marquess of Queensberry, but Prison Officer Sidney ‘Sour’ Crout is his finest moment in a career of distinction. Oh, and it has the best theme/opening titles combo of any British comedy film ever. Ken Jones, we salute you.

* Apologies for mangling the quote. The full story is explained in the accompanying comments, and it’s a corker.