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Month: September 2011

We have been watching…

We have been watching…

Very sad news about the passing of David Croft. His greatest achievements were in comedy, rather than variety, so he got only a passing mention in Turned Out Nice Again. One of the more uncomfortable editorial decisions I had to take, but there we are. To redress the balance slightly, I think this previously-unpublished passage from the transcript of my interview with former BBC TV head of light entertainment Jim Moir is worth sharing.

“We were discussing how when you come off the training course, you get stuck with a whole bunch of producers. I was attached to David Croft for a show called Ad Lib. It was an early ‘you take a sentence, I’ll take a sentence and we’ve got to get to this conclusion’ type show. Very experimental for BBC2. There were two trainees on it, me and a fellow called Dick Clement. I did my bit, ran the floor, I was in the bar with David and he said ‘Well what do you think?’. I said ‘Well, I was just thinking what else we could put in the show. What about if we got a jazz singer, a scat singer? Because that’s kind of ad lib.’ He went ‘Mmmhmm’. Three weeks later, Annie Ross rocks up on the show. He had not said one single word to me, but he had listened to me, thought it was a good idea and just went out and did it. I’d not said anything to him ‘Did you do that because I said so?’ because clearly he did.

When that series came to an end in about May, the boards for the permanency – I’d been a trainee for about 6 months, the boards were in June. And it was David Croft who gave the report on me after 6 months of traineeship, and said ‘Hire this boy’. I have everything to thank him for, for that opportunity, and I can honestly say that he was probably the greatest head of light entertainment we never had. I don’t think he could have afforded the drop. He’d be looking round to commission himself. He was a powerhouse. He brought on an enormous amount of in-house talent. He was generous, as was Michael Hurll with the people who came up under him, as was Yvonne Littlewood. I don’t think people even know they’re doing it. It’s not ‘Today I will bring on X amount of talent’. You just do it. You recall the chances you were given.”

Fucking diddums

Fucking diddums

Novelist and raddled Kevin Godley lookalike Howard Jacobson has been moved to pass stern comment on blogs and blog(wo)men. Apparently he feels “a bit chilled” when he looks at blogs. “What you read is extreme ignorance and pure poison,” says Jacobson, “It is a poisonous, poisonous medium. You can’t believe how malicious, how ignorant, how stupid… and you do wonder if they don’t have anything better to do than attack people who have written articles. And you do wonder whatever happened to the idea of the critic; of the reviewer… people who have given their lives to honing the art of what they do.”

He goes on to add that “Occasionally I read some people’s comments on Amazon, some of which are beyond belief”, which is, for me, the clincher as it makes fairly clear that he is basing his opinion of all blogs and non-professional commenters on unfavourable comments that have been made about his work. He’s Googled himself, discovered that not everyone regards his every last word as spun gold and had a hissy fit. Bless. Jacobson seems to be saying that the only valid critical opinions are the ones for which the reviewer has been paid by a mainstream publication, and that if you bought one of his books and found it rubbish, you should keep schtum about it. Obviously the same applies if you love his work. Obviously.

This attitude is problematic balls on several levels. For one thing, mainstream book reviewers run the risk of meeting the authors they’re reviewing and might be tempted to temper their views for a quiet life. Or they might overstate their views to get a bit of controversy going. It’s a myth to think that newspaper book reviews are beacons of fair play. You might not like the honest response of a punter, but them’s the breaks. Then there’s the fact that blogs are no more inherently poisonous or ignorant than a blank sheet of paper. It’s what’s written therein that matters.

Jacobson also seems to be saying that only paid writers pay any attention to the matter of craft, which is, frankly, insulting nonsense. “People who have given their lives” suggests a degree of suffering, but in my experience, being a professional writer means going to bed when I like, getting up when I like and, in between, having a lovely time with concepts and words, rather than “giving my life” to a grinding job that I hate for an employer I despise.

Bloggers are “people who have written articles”, you hidebound old media ninny. They might not have a column in The Independent, but they have a forum, and this can be a wonderful thing. What exactly is it that makes them inferior? I write books and articles for money. I also have a blog. Do I have to dress up half as an author and half as a blogger, and argue with myself like Tommy Cooper used to? All in all, it seems to be another manifestation of the ailment known as Linehan’s Palsy, in which someone moderately celebrated who likes the freedom to give out their opinions to all and sundry can’t actually bear anyone else having that freedom if the opinion is not in their favour. Free speech is wonderful, but only up to a point.

Howard, love, if you look a bit harder, you might find that the vast majority of blogs aren’t about you. For sure, there are some unpleasant things said out there in blogland (I’ve said some of them myself, I admit quite freely, and I stand by every last syllable), but there’s also a lot of intelligent, in-depth discussion of interesting topics that wouldn’t necessarily be covered by the mainstream media. Saying that all blogs are poisonous is as erroneous as saying that all novelists are ill-informed horse-faced narcissists.