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Month: April 2010

Party Political Broadcasts – the antidote

Party Political Broadcasts – the antidote

Just as it’s said imagining authority figures in their birthday suits can help the ordinary man or woman deal with them, so the following might help the same ordinary men and women get party political broadcasts in the right perspective. It’s from the great underrated LWT sketch show End of Part One, which should have been out on DVD years ago. Andrew Marshall and David Renwick, we salute you.

Hail hail the Daily Mail

Hail hail the Daily Mail

The Daily Mail and General Trust has indicated that it will not be moving to a subscription model online. To support this, it presents some pretty compelling reasons for staying free, and shows that it grasps what the Internet is and what it does far better than News International or the entire record industry. It aims to compete on the Internet’s terms, rather than its own, imposed by the best law money can buy, and it aims to succeed. If only the Mail showed the same enlightenment editorially as it does in business, I’d be able to wish it well for its future endeavours without any reservations.

Fade up my leader

Fade up my leader

I wonder if Jake Knott was on the carpet this morning? For those who don’t share my interest in the credits on TV programmes, he was the sound supervisor on last night’s debate between the party leaders, and he didn’t have Gordon Brown’s mic faded up ready for the Labour leader’s first response. When it happened, I thought “Pity the poor sod mixing this. There’ll be words afterwards”. The only saving grace for Mr Knott is that the director wasn’t the late Stewart ‘Keep the DG in shot for Christ’s sake’ Morris.

By the way, it was great to see all the old ‘Granada TV’ signs in the news coverage of the debate. When Quay Street closes, the Manchester skyline will lose a little more magic. It’s already lost a bit with the removal of the lattice tower on the roof of the main office block. The debate was, unless I’m much mistaken, done in studio 6, more usually home to The Jeremy Kyle Show. It was also where they did Crown Court, Wheeltappers and Shunters and The Comedians. Please supply your own punchline.

As for who won, I couldn’t care less. Brown was the most fluent. Clegg appeared to be the most sincere. Cameron ballsed up by maintaining our right to nuke China. Why couldn’t I care less? We don’t have a presidential system, so this debate was a mere sideshow. I’ll tell you who lost, though. Alastair Stewart. Bleeding useless, much as I expected. I know Cliff Michelmore’s 91 now, but he’d still have whipped Stewart’s sorry arse.

Papers. PAPERS! Read all about the news.

Papers. PAPERS! Read all about the news.

A mention in the Daily Mail. I don’t know whether to feel pleased at getting the NOTA/Protest Vote movement its first national newspaper coverage or to feel dirty.

Slightly more worrying is that I’m approaching 40 and still acting the arse on occasion. I feel I should make greater efforts to grow up. Not that I haven’t made massive progress over the last decade. Once upon a time, random acts of drunken idiocy were my norm, whereas I’m now a sober, boring, respectable(ish), cardigan-wearing dad 99% of the time.

Digital Economy act – the aftermath

Digital Economy act – the aftermath

So, the Digital Economy Bill is now the Digital Economy Act, and is part of the law of the land. What difference will it make? The main change is that more ordinary people will get wise to encryption and VPNs. Only the record industry and the technical dunderheads in favour of the bill – step forward Parliament’s top Roy Cropper lookalike Stephen Timms (look at the picture, Hayley’s on the front bench too) who doesn’t understand IP addresses, but still feel happy to legislate on them – could have thought it would solve the problem of illegal downloading. Everything will just go further underground, and the futile attempts to pin blame on anyone will just end up costing a fortune. It’s like trying to build a defence against a nuclear warhead from plywood. Have I changed my tune? Not really. Fighting the Bill and following the progress of the truncated travesty of a debate was necessary, worthwhile and, let’s be frank, a big old shitload of fun. And it led thousands of technically-literate and music-loving youngsters to watch BBC Parliament for hours on end, which can only be a good thing for the future of democracy and political engagement. For every one who thought “What the fuck are those old fuckers playing at? Include me out”, another will have thought “What the fuck are those old fuckers playing at? Let’s get involved”. Right, I’m off to download MP3s of Stephen Timms’ Parliamentary speeches. Illegally. Go me.

Book review: 65 – My Life So Far by Jonathan King

Book review: 65 – My Life So Far by Jonathan King

Having failed to get a review published in any of the periodicals to which I contribute, here’s my honest appraisal of 65 – My Life So Far, the autobiography of music mogul and self-styled vile pervert Jonathan King.

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Show business autobiographies are usually more telling in what they omit rather than what they include. One major personality signed a friend’s copy of his memoirs with “Try and believe at least some of it”. Very few who tell their life story in a book, ghosted or otherwise, present a balanced and fair picture of the subject, perhaps unsurprising in a business fuelled by ego. Bob Monkhouse’s excellent Crying With Laughter is one of the very rare exceptions.

As, oddly, is 65: My Life So Far by Jonathan King, the pop world’s equivalent of a disgraced bishop. King is a pariah. His records (and those of Gary Glitter) are noticeably absent from the airwaves, while those of convicted murderer Phil Spector are not. Meanwhile there’s an unspoken ban on him appearing on television or radio.

So, he says, he has nothing to lose by telling the truth. However, truth is problematic, as any historian knows. An individual will remember an event one way, another individual will remember it another way. Neither version is contradictory, but there is conflict. So when King says we’re getting the truth, what we’re getting is King’s truth. However, when read with this caveat in mind, there’s a lot of value in 65 My Life So Far.

King is excellent when talking about other people and events that he witnessed as a pop personality, which account for 430-odd pages of the 583 on offer (It could be cut by about a third without losing much, and, at this length, the absence of an index is almost a criminal act in itself). Propelled into the charts while still a Cambridge undergraduate, he soon transferred to the business side of music and was on the inside track from the 1960s to the 1990s, ultimately running the Brit awards and the Eurovision Song Contest. It’s tempting to assume at times that he’s building up his part (he invented this, established that, saved the other from disaster, etc), but the cuttings support his claims. Moreover, he avoided drink and drugs, so his memory of it is unfogged.

He adds credence to the rumours about John Lennon’s alleged bisexuality, but that’s far less interesting than the stories of wheeling and dealing to get hits made and into the charts. It’s also good to read more about Decca chairman Sir Edward Lewis, one of the most fascinating if underwritten figures of the music industry, who regarded King almost as an adopted son.

Perhaps the most telling story in this part of 65: My Life So Far is King’s recollection of watching the Apollo 11 moonshot on TV. While others marvelled at the scientific achievement, King’s main concern was, rather egotistically, with the copy of his song Everyone’s Gone to the Moon that had, through various connections, been placed on the rocket. As Neil Armstrong said “A giant step for mankind”, King was to be found shouting “Enough of these platitudes for God’s sake. Play my fucking record!” at the screen.

The last 150 pages deal with King’s life since his arrest in 2000. The trial is covered in depth, with some details that contemporary press reports omitted to mention. One of his accusers claimed that he had been 15 when King made an advance on him, pinpointing it at the time of a particular record of King’s. King denied ever meeting the lad, but also proved that the record in question had been made 4 years later, when the accuser was 19. Even if a reader isn’t persuaded by King’s protestations of innocence, as he hopes they might be, there’s enough here to bring into question the ethics of those who brought King to book. The apparent pincer movement of police and media, with Max Clifford looming large; and the willingness to move minor details like dates around worked against him, he suggests. It may be that a trial free of these influences would have reached the same conclusions, but nobody will ever have the chance to know.

The relative values at work in the King case are interesting. King is an outcast, while Bill Wyman – who had a well-documented sexual relationship with an underage girl – is welcomed as a guest on The One Show. Is it because Wyman was a Rolling Stone, the epitome of supposed bad boy rock and roll hedonist cool, while King was a naff pop troubadour? Maybe his worst offences were merely those of making daft records and looking a bit too pleased with himself for a bit too long.

Disclosure

Disclosure

With the campaign fund getting to a point where my candidature will be a reality, there’s something I feel I should confess, lest any of my opponents get wind of it and try to make political capital out of it. I have a criminal record. One evening in January this year, waiting on the platform at Liverpool Street station for the 9pm train back to the east coast after an all-day consultation with various friends and associates in various central London licensed premises, I was apprehended as drunk and disorderly.

Drunk I most certainly was. The first pint had been despatched by 11.45am, and I had left the last pub at 7.30pm to ensure I caught my last train home. For fear of being thought to boast about my capacity and to avoid any trouble from the anti-binge-drinking lobby, I won’t reveal my conservative estimate of how much of my body mass was composed of the products of Messrs Greene King, Timothy Taylor and Fuller, Smith and Turner. However, “lapping against the back teeth” would not be far off the mark.

Disorderly? I was fully aware of how plastered I was, and so, on arrival at Liverpool Street around 8pm (my Oyster card usage shows me to have passed through Holborn tube at 7.51pm), I decided to head straight for the platform that I, as a railway bore, knew my train would leave from, and wait there, keeping well out of everybody’s way. I sat on some ducting at the far end of the platform and rummaged in my bag for something to attempt to read.

At 8.05pm, I found myself surrounded by three British Transport Police officers in stab-proof vests, telling me to leave the station, as I was not fit to travel. In a sober frame of mind, I would have found this utterly illogical and baffling, but I would have had the wherewithal to challenge the assertion. Think about it. I’m not fit to travel, but I’m fit to wander around the streets of the city of London. Were they just trying to get rid of me so I’d be some other bugger’s problem? In any case, leaving the station was my fervent wish, but only on the 9pm train, upon which I was planning to fall asleep and wake at my terminus station with a thumping headache and a vague worry that I’d made a tit of myself. Unfortunately, I was not in a sober frame of mind, so I told them to leave me alone. They didn’t. So then, as I recall it, they tried to manhandle me out of position, a manoeuvre that involved twisting my right arm up my back. In the words of Gerard Hoffnung’s bricklayer, it was at this point that I lost my presence of mind. Due to unfortunate occurrences last year, my right arm does not respond well to being forced anywhere. I turned the air blue, and found myself face first on the floor, handcuffed and being told I was being arrested. At this point, I burst out laughing. “What’s so funny, sir?” asked the chief plod. “This,” I replied, “It’s hilarious. It’s special“. From then on, I became unbearable, taunting them from my prone position, asking if they’d joined the BTP because they couldn’t get into the proper police. I was carried over the road to Bishopsgate police station. As we passed the front door, I asked if they were planning to take me up the tradesmen’s entrance. Once inside, I asked if they could add numerous other heinous offences to the charge sheet just for fun.

From there, it was off with the tie, shoes, etc and into an overheated cell. All this was achieved by 9pm. Shamefully, it took them until after 1am and a shedload of me being tiresome through the grille before they rang my wife and assured her that I wasn’t dead in a ditch somewhere. As I said on the last time I reminded them that they had to do this one thing, making me suffer was fair game, but making a blameless woman have a sleepless night was not. In the morning, I was released and told to report to Horseferry Road Magistrates Court the following week at 10am. I paid through the nose for a walk-up ticket to Lowestoft, my ticket for the previous night having been a pre-booked cheapo.

I spent the next week fretting about fine tariffs and the like, and, at the advice of a friend who has recently qualified as a lawyer (who, amusingly enough, had been drinking with me for much of the day in question), working up a statement of mitigation and completing my means form. I’m eternally indebted to Queen Margot & Let’s Look Sideways for putting me up the night before I was due in front of the beak. The BTP and the CPS cocked up and nearly failed to have my case papers at the court in time. Had I not asked to see the charge sheet before going in to plead (I was going to plead guilty all along, but I wanted to know exactly what I was being asked to own up to) there’s every chance the papers wouldn’t have arrived and I’d have walked. The relevant documents were faxed over hurriedly (“Fax it up?” “Well, it doesn’t help, your worship”) and I was called in after a few hours of waiting around. The magistrate thought I should have been offered a caution, and said that he’d refer it up if I was willing to wait. As I had research work to do that afternoon and I didn’t have any desire to dally in the court any longer than I had to, I said that I’d rather just get on with it. He looked at my means form. It’s been a lean year, and I’d brought the bank statements to prove it. Sentence was passed. £100 fine plus £15 ‘victim surcharge’ (why don’t they just call it a £115 fine?) plus £50 costs. The night in the cells wiped out the £115, leaving me to pay just the £50. I paid up and went to the pub next door for a pint of Shepherd Neame Masterbrew and some lunch. Never has a session bitter tasted sweeter. When I rang my mum to tell her the result, she asked “Where are you now?”. When I replied “In the pub next door”, it was as though I’d confessed to every unsolved murder in the book. “Go straight home now,” she ordered in a quivering voice. As I was booked on another 9pm cheap ticket, and I had interviews to do between now and then, I said that I couldn’t, and that I was merely having something to eat and a very weak beer to wash it down. I didn’t think this was the moment to remind her that until an hour before I had been the only member of our family who hadn’t so much as a parking ticket to their name.

This is the bit that interests me most. The magistrate thought that it was potentially an offence warranting nothing more than a caution. Failing that, an £80 on-the-spot penalty might have been appropriate. So why did the BTP take it to court? Could it be that I was well-dressed and that, with fines being pegged to earnings, they thought I’d be good for more than £80? They don’t benefit directly, but a larger fine would surely count for something in the mass of meaningless performance statistics that measure the effectiveness of our law enforcers? How were they to know that I’m a cash-strapped freelance who nonetheless has at least one nice suit?

You’ve had my side. Here, for reference, is the official version. I’ve obscured the name of the arresting officer to save him the embarrassment of being exposed as someone who can’t spell the word ‘twat’, so let’s call him PC Charles Penrose.

“JUST GET THE FUCK” should obviously read “JUST GET TO FUCK”. Other minor details omitted by PC Penrose include what I shouted as they carried me up the stairs from the station onto Bishopsgate, which was “PUT ME DOWN, I CAN WALK, YOU FUCKERS”. There’s also the small matter of me being identified as “a male…who has been on the platform for some considerable time drinking alcohol”. Firstly, I’d been on the platform no more than 5 minutes when PC Penrose and chums rolled up (My Oyster card proves this beyond doubt). Secondly, I had not been drinking alcohol at any point since arriving at the station. Thirdly, nobody from National Express approached me at any point. And if we’re really quibbling, the suit was black pinstripe not grey, and I am really, truly not of slim build. PC Penrose – You carried me. You know how heavy I am.

So, people of Waveney, your protest candidate on 6 May is a drunken criminal. Judge me on my record.