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Month: February 2010

6Music and the Asian Network must be saved

6Music and the Asian Network must be saved

I’m wondering about the source for the Times’ story on BBC cutbacks. Is it as 24 carat as Rawnsley’s source for Bruiser Brown, or are Murdoch’s henchpersons merely flying a kite? It would be a dark day for broadcasting and choice (Remember that? The thing that free markets were supposed to bring us?) if either 6Music or the Asian Network closed.

Even if you listen to neither, the fact that they exist is important. If we let either go, it’s the thin end of the wedge. Pastor Niemoller’s advice applies. When the barbarians come for BBC4, its viewers will be on our own. People who regard the licence fee as an acceptable tithe for civilisation, not an unfair tax, really need to stand out for this issue from the outset. Both stations are run on tiny budgets. 6Music is run on £6m a year. I’d love to know how much Big Top cost the Corporation. Is anyone saying “Don’t make sitcoms starring Amanda Holden, as it’s a misuse of public money if they tank”? Perhaps they should.

Quite apart from the Times’ obvious bias, we also see the Grauniad barely able to contain its glee. That’ll be the same Guardian that owns the Real Radio, Smooth Radio and Rock Radio brands, as well as the Guardian Unlimited online news service. Funny, that.

The BBC’s critics seem very muddled. The Corporation can’t compete with the commercial sector, nor can it provide distinctive niche services. What exactly can it do? Maybe it should start by growing a pair and saying “We’re the BBC. This is what we do. Got a problem with that, Rupert?”.

Davies (Alan) at Large

Davies (Alan) at Large

Of all the celebrities on Twitter, Alan Davies (@alandavies1, should anyone be wondering) is by far the most interesting. Not because of what he himself says, which is usually something about Arsenal, but because of his modus operandi, particularly with regard to re-tweeting. For the uninitiated, this is when you take a tweet written by someone else and forward it to everybody following you.

Davies has built a career from his regular guy/affable eejit persona (good luck to him – I wish I could find a niche that didn’t pay atrociously), but many who’ve worked with him or otherwise encountered him have found him less than affable. Me included. I met him once at a Jane Goldman book launch, and received a withering tirade about the evils of journalism and journalists, even trade press hacks who were just there to neck a few canapes and write an innocuous ‘guests included’ paragraph for the dreary, sorry, diary column. Seemingly, he didn’t realise that, had I been the vindictive sort of journalist, he’d have been giving me plenty of ammunition to give him another unfavourable bit of coverage. I wasn’t, so I just thought “what an appallingly rude man”. Or words to that effect.

Last week, a friend of mine asked on Twitter “Anyone got a story about Alan Davies where he doesn’t come across as a complete prick? …Anyone?”. This was then re-tweeted by Davies. The aforementioned friend then received a number of messages from some of Davies’ followers.

  • just shut up.
  • I interviewed him at a charity event at Emirates Stadium a couple of years ago and he was a thoroughly nice chap
  • no, but that’s the genius of it, making a living out of being a complete prick. That only happens with politicians, celebs and Alan
  • No i haven’t, has anyone got a story about you being a complete prick? is there any need to be offensive?
  • i don’t have any storys about him but he comes across as charismatic, funny and positive…..unlike you !
  • well I interviewed him on my show and he was perfectly charming.
  • Aw what?! Alan Davies is a legend!!!
  • nope
  • I could write one, aside from being a Gooner he seems OK to me.
  • I once bumped into him (quite literally) as I was walking out of a Bill Bailey show. He said hello! he did ignore a direct msg i sent yesterday for some big big help i need. that does not actually make him a prick
  • That time he retweeted you so his large fanbase can have a laugh at your expense 😉
  • Ouch!
  • Hv u tried @alandavies1 He might have 1?
  • that isnt nice at all, would you actually say that to his face? if you cant say something nice, then say nothing! (@alandavies1)
  • Yes thanks. @alandavies1 is a top fella.
  • but really, he’s a lovely man. Said hi to him at the DB10 testimonial and he replied nicely.
  • Now that’s a tricky one…
  • yes, i was begging for change once and he bit me on the nose. it was for my own good like, he popped a spot for me with his teeth.

As you can see, the responses ranged from the reasonable to the idiotic, with a disturbing number suggesting that because Davies is famous, he must also be a smashing bloke. One indicated that a reply or a retweet from Davies would make her day. Why, exactly? The downside of Twitter is the number of people trying to get noticed, however briefly, by celebrities. I use it mostly to kvetch with my mates. To the famous, it’s mostly a marketing tool. Nothing wrong with that. Just know the rules of engagement. Following a celebrity does not make you closer to them.

Some of my chum’s replies came from people who appear not to read Davies’ tweets properly. The “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing” tweeter seems not to have noticed Davies posting messages like “@alandavies1 Can you get a JLS punchbag? Why not? Just photos of all those great boys, but on a bag you can punch?”.

When I picked up on my friend’s situation, I sent him a message: “So, how does this work? You say something critical about @alandavies1 and a bunch of fuckwits start following you? Coincidence?”. The word ‘critical’ was a carefully-placed red herring (or even a QI-style elephant trap), as neither my friend nor I had actually said anything critical about Davies. We had merely asked questions. My message was re-tweeted by Davies within minutes.

Another friend of mine picked up on the situation and offered moral support. I explained what was going on, copying Davies in.

  • @alandavies1 has retweeted it and 1 of his followers is now following me. Here’s hoping he’s not a fuckwit.
    I’m hoping to disprove someone else’s suggestion that @alandavies1 uses his fans as a sort of Praetorian (Twittorian?) Guard.
    If @alandavies1 did, it would be quite cowardly, very twatty and not a little needy, don’t you think? Let’s hope he doesn’t.

Curiously, Davies retweeted none of the above. I didn’t receive any direct responses, but plenty of Davies’ followers replied to him with messages along the lines of “Why are all these beastly people so mean to our favourite curly-mopped funster?”, the followers not actually noticing that I hadn’t actually been mean to him. I was particularly amused by “Thanks for the @cheeseford RT. Good to know who the prats are, out there on the Twitter fringes. All the best.” Out here on the Twitter fringes would have been more accurate, as the Twitterer in question is no closer to the epicentre than I am. Maybe he thinks he’s at the throbbing heart of power because he follows some bloke from a panel game. He isn’t.

One exchange was interesting:

  • – @alandavies1 Thanks for the C-word RT. :-}
    – don’t shoot the messenger…just the sort of stuff that comes in daily. And I’m supposed to be the rabble rouser on here…
    – @alandavies1 There are so many dorks out there. Water off a duck’s back I hope?
    – Yes. It’s been a relentless campaign of libellous blogging & anonymous tweeting with the odd ludicrous article in the Telegraph

Anonymous? Well, that’s me and my mate in the clear, as our real names are at the tops of our Twitter pages. Oddly, he doesn’t seem anywhere near as dismissive of praise from people who tweet under names other than the ones on their birth certificate. The “ludicrous” Telegraph article? Decide for yourself. Personally, I think it’s perfectly fair. I might feel different if it had been written about me, but I try not to do things that get me written about (apart from book reviews). It’s the “don’t shoot the messenger” that intrigues me most, though. He’s saying “Hey, I just pass it on”, but as we’ve seen, he re-tweets selectively, and it always seems to be the stuff that could look, if you were in a hurry or not very good at reading comprehension, like someone was having a go at him. This raises the question “Why does he re-tweet these messages?”. Or rather why he re-tweets some messages, but not others. Could it be that he realises he has an army of adoring fans who think he can do no wrong, quite likes it, and knows how to play on their loyalty? Nah, he’s TV’s top tousle-haired affable eejit regular guy. He wouldn’t do that. Would he?

Chance would be a fine thing (slight return)

Chance would be a fine thing (slight return)

Having mentioned that the untransmitted pilot of Chance in a Million was on the new DVD, I was asked elsewhere how the two versions differed. So, here goes. The first half of the pilot Plumstones and the tx version are identical. However, the second half was completely re-shot, indeed recast, and the plot differs considerably. The transmitted version is a much more interesting and satisfying experience, with the absence of the laboured food fight and the neat tying up of the various coincidences with the revelation of the waiter’s identity. So we have:

Different recording of the theme tune, presumably pre-existing commercial recording on pilot, with glaring edit to fit the on-screen movement. Pilot has noticeable head-switching, so assume it’s from VHS. Pilot has Thames ident, transmitted version doesn’t.

Scene 1: Hotel – identical on both versions.
Scene 2: Street – woman locked out of car – identical on both versions.
Scene 3: Street – policemen apologising – identical on both versions
Scene 4: Street – identical on both versions, until “Make a run for it?/Yes”
– Cuts straight to part 2 on transmitted version.
– Pilot runs 20 seconds longer, with ‘End of Part One’ caption, over locked-out woman and husband chasing Tom’s car, with sting from Ted Heath’s Decca recording of Taking a Chance on Love, then VT clock for part 2.
Scene 5: Restaurant – different takes, indeed sets completely different.
– Longer chat with maitre d’ on the pilot – “Special table? Ah, you are special people”.
– Maitre d’ brusque on the transmitted version – no special people, just “This way”.
– Waiter takes drink order on pilot, transmitted version cuts straight to table after several pints of lager had been drunk.
– Waiter – Brian Croucher on pilot, Paul Chapman on transmitted version – brings more drinks on both versions. Keeps pint of lager for self on transmitted version.
– On pilot, Alison drinks wine – confusion over glasses, she gets Tom’s lager. On transmitted version, she drinks lager too.
– Dialogue substantially identical.
– Conversation at table largely two-shot in pilot, but individual close-ups on transmitted version.
– A couple of lines cut on transmitted version when summoning waiter.
– Pilot “You want soup in soixante seconds?” – transmitted version “You want soup in sixty seconds?”.
– On pilot, waiter spills soup on Tom’s lap, very deliberately. On transmitted version, waiter spills soup on Alison’s lap, obviously an accident. “If it was deliberate, I would have done it like this”. On pilot, maitre d’ breaks Tom and waiter apart. Tom responds by smearing food on waiter’s head, then pouring gravy in maitre d’s pockets. Maitre d’ responds by asking for the sweet trolley and starting a long food fight with Tom. Cutaways to laughing diners. When waiter puts ice down Alison’s blouse, Tom announces they’re leaving. They do to applause from diners. In waiters’ changing room, it emerges that “special people…special table” is code for slapstick – “You are from the Sarah Bernhard School of Drama?” “No” “Oh…”.
– On transmitted version, maitre d’ passes and asks if Tom and Alison are enjoying their meal. Tom says waiter can say what he has to say to his face. Waiter plants custard pie on Tom’s face. Cuts to changing room, with maitre d’ apologising, but admitting it was a mistake to taunt the waiter so close to the sweet trolley. Waiter – now sacked – comes in. It emerges that he’s the lover of the woman locked out of the car earlier.
Scene 6: Outside Tom’s house
– pilot has short bit of dialogue from Alison about not wanting to miss tonight for anything. “I’ve really enjoyed myself, in a way”.
– Obviously studio set.
– Transmitted version on location
– Both end with Alison climbing in through open window. In pilot, it’s the lavatory (“Mind the cistern”). In transmitted version, just the window next to the front door. Both versions end with policeman shining torch on Tom and Alison, and Tom’s line “Alison, I think you’d better come out now. (I think) We’ve just hit (found) another plumstone”.
Some people credited on pilot not credited on transmitted version. Most notable is the designer credit – Alison Waugh on pilot, Peter Elliott on transmitted version, despite pilot hotel scenes being re-used.

The transmitted version runs 25m 6s, the pilot runs 29m 20s, although a minute is taken up by the ident, black level and the VT clock into part 2.

The Wogun Inheritance

The Wogun Inheritance

While it’s splendid to have Sir Terry Wogan back on Radio 2, it’s a pity that Michael Ball’s Sunday Supplement had to go to make way for the Togmeister’s return. Couldn’t Steve Wright’s Sunday Love (the Show) Songs have been sacrificed painlessly, allowing Ball to move to the earlier slot?

Chance would be a fine thing

Chance would be a fine thing

I’ve just finished a review for the Oldie of the soon-come DVD of Chance in a Million series 1. For the uninitiated, it was a sublime yet subtle send-up of sitcom conventions, starring the splendid Simon Callow as a man plagued by coincidences and Brenda Blethyn as his loyal librarian girlfriend. Subtle? Yes, for all of its satirical intent, it could also just about be taken on face value as a pure sitcom, and probably was by many viewers when ITV repeated it a few months after it had premiered on Channel 4. At one point in the first series, it was 4’s 4th most popular programme, its 3.1 million viewers putting it just behind International Snooker and the two mid-week editions of Brookside. My 11-year-old self adored it from the first bar of the theme tune, a Ronnie ‘Two Pianos’ Aldrich arrangement of ‘Taking a Chance On Love’, and my 36-year-old self adores it no less. I’m still trying to work out which I love more out of Ms Blethyn or the character she plays, an outwardly timorous yet seethingly passionate specimen of womanhood. When I first met young Masterton in a radio dungeon beneath the Psychology department at Lancaster nearly 20 years ago, a shared love of the series was one of the things that sealed our friendship. Anyway, it’s great to have it on a shiny disc (to say nothing of the untransmitted pilot version of episode 1 ‘Plumstones’), even if the ad break captions are missing. It’s a small point, but the jump cuts from part 1 to part 2 really jar with me. Even though I’ve watched it all many times, one line still made me guffaw earlier. Playing a paratrooper on a treasure hunt, the late Jeremy Sinden remarks on the extreme unlikelihood of finding the requested nude picture of Shirley Williams that “I know one of the lads is prepared to give it a go with chloroform and a Polaroid”. Maybe it’s the rhythm, maybe it’s the choice of words (hats off to Andrew Norriss and Richard Fegen for the gleeful scripts), maybe it’s the image. Maybe it’s all of the above. Certainly it’s funny.

Cycle path on the loose

Cycle path on the loose

Walking back from the shops along our local cycle path yesterday, I had a strange encounter. At a junction, I’d walked across and as soon as I had, I heard a bicycle moving slowly behind me. I made sure that both I and the dog were on the side of the path marked out for walkers and carried on. The cyclist moved to the half of the path marked out for bikes (the one with the big bike painted on it), and as he passed, I saw he was a child (of no more than 12) in a hooded top on a BMX. No sooner had he passed me than he turned around and shot me a look of purest contempt. I met his gaze. He turned to the front briefly, before looking back over his shoulder again, maintaining that look. I kept looking ahead, that being the direction in which I was going. When he was about 20 feet away from me, still cycling, he broke the silence. “Fucking cunt”. To which I replied “Turn around and face the way you’re going. You might fall off”. The reply came: “Fat fucking twat”. To which I responded: “Face the front and keep cycling”. He got a little further away and stopped, before delivering another volley of insults. Unfortunately, he was too far away for me to hear them properly. I merely reiterated my suggestion that he should go about his business and leave me to get on with mine. As I drew closer, he resumed his journey, taking a short cut through the cemetery, which was slightly annoying as that was what I was planning to do, and now I couldn’t without appearing slightly creepy. That was the last I saw of the wee chap. So, I’d been on the right side of the path and been facing the direction of travel, but I was the cunt of the piece? Strange. Or was he simply hoping that I’d bite and get angry with him? Even more strange.

Metropolis regained

Metropolis regained

Full marks to the German/French arts channel Arte for going to town with the restored version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. The screening of the reconstructed film was preceded by half an hour of speeches and interviews, then followed by a documentary on the restoration. I had planned to record the evening’s proceedings for later viewing, but I found myself caught up in the excitement of the occasion, unable to tear myself away, just about following the captions and commentaries with my rusty schoolboy German. The idea that I was sitting in my Lowestoft living room experiencing this film in something resembling its entirety for the first time in 83 years, at the same time as the audience in the Friedrichstadt Palast in Berlin, was ever-so-slightly mind-blowing. The idea that I was experiencing it in a relatively warm environment while thousands froze their extremities off at the Brandenburg Gate to achieve the same end made me profoundly grateful for my £30 Lidl satellite box and the hours I spent up a ladder aiming the dish.

What of the film? Well, I’ll be honest. I’d never seen it before, not even in the 1980s pop version by Giorgio Moroder. However, having seen it now with the restored material, I can’t believe that it made any sense at all in its edited form. Every single reinstated frame seemed vital to me, no matter how dire the picture quality. I say dire, but the restorers have worked miracles with the 16mm reduction print found in Buenos Aires. This clip gives a rough idea of how much work they’ve done.

It’s like patching a 30ips audio master tape with sections from a wax cylinder, but the most important thing is the story, and the elements told in those flickery fragments were meant to be there. And now they are, again.

I’ll expect the same gala treatment from BBC4 when the telerecording of Fred Emney Picks a Pop finally surfaces.

Barrymore spiked

Barrymore spiked

When the Irish chap in the previous Barrymore clip mentioned a troublesome encounter with Spike Milligan, I suspected very strongly that the Cheeseford archives held a copy of it. So it proves. Interesting to see how Barrymore deals with a turbulent guest. Interesting also to see how much Spike was relying on verbatim recitations from his war memoirs by this point. Apologies for the long-play VHS recording on threadbare tape via indoor aerial-type quality of the clip.

Barrymore is less

Barrymore is less

Cards on the table: I like Michael Barrymore. I saw him live at his mid-1980s peak, and I’ve never seen anybody control an audience like him. The self-destructive urge within him prevented him from becoming one of the greats, but, on his day, he was a stunning performer. As for the Stuart Lubbock thing, the basic, horrific fact is that a man drowned in his swimming pool. However, the same happened to Art Malik, and nobody blames him for what happened. Relative values at work again.

Fast forward to Barrymore’s recent appearance on an Irish chat show with right-wing crusader and host Brendan O’Connor. If ever something deserved the description “car-crash telly” this is it. With a strong, intelligent interviewer, Barrymore would be a worthwhile guest. He needs someone to say “Sit down and stop showing off. You’re here to have a conversation with me”. Brendan O’Connor isn’t that man. Barrymore evades every question in the most unsubtle manner. O’Connor should have opened with a couple of softball questions, just to see if Barrymore was in chatty mood. Then, he could have asked about the comedian’s fall from grace. Instead, he opened with it, and was met with a rambling and unfunny flight of fancy about being the patron of the Sheep Society, followed by an audience participation version of Charles Aznavour’s ‘She(ep)’.

From there, getting any sense out of Barrymore was impossible. The male guest (who he?) almost managed it by remembering Barrymore trying to keep a similarly wayward Spike Milligan under control. For a second, it looked like Barrymore was going to respond with a proper anecdote about working with Spike, but he was distracted by a gap in the sofa and the thread was lost again, with Barrymore standing up and asking the audience if they liked his shoes. That this interview should be such a jaw-dropper for all the wrong reasons is a shame, because Barrymore’s looking better and sounding more lucid than he has in years. If he sat down, behaved himself and talked like an adult about his life and bad choices, maybe people wouldn’t think so ill of him. The odd thing is that his success was based largely on refusing to sit down or behave himself. Barrymore remains constant (the Jedward gag near the end is a genuine flash of the old mad brilliance of the man, and also a fine example of his utter fearlessness on stage), but the context has changed. Pre-Lubbock, the public were happy to indulge him, but the goodwill is no more.

Sir John Dankworth (1927-2010)

Sir John Dankworth (1927-2010)

When I heard the news of Sir John Dankworth’s death on the radio this morning, I thought I was hallucinating. I hoped I was hallucinating. After attending the 3 Bonzos and a Piano concert at the Bloomsbury Theatre last night, I and a few friends had stayed up all night talking (mostly moaning about the non-existence of this 24-hour drinking culture that’s supposedly breaking Britain even further – try getting a glass of milk in Soho after 3am and the options are limited to Balan’s Cafe and Bar Italia, each not much bigger than my front room and thus rammed to bursting), so my brain wasn’t exactly in peak condition at 7.30am. Unfortunately, what I’d heard was real, and so my sleep-deprived brain had to process the fact that one of my lifelong heroes was no more. Fortunately, he leaves an amazing legacy of music, including a TV theme tune that did a lot to get the infant me into this thing called jazz. Condolences to Dame Cleo, and to Alec and Jacqui. A few years ago, I was covering a jazz festival in Guernsey for Crescendo, at which the JD5 – Sir John, Mark Nightingale, John Horler, Dave Olney (depping for son Alec) and Allan Ganley – were performing. They opened the second set with the Tomorrow’s World theme, and very little can match the feeling of glee that overtook me. That was the only time I met Sir John, but I’m happy to report that as well as being a first-class musician and composer, he was also a genuinely nice chap. RIP, Sir John.