William had all the talent in that family, clearly

If you follow me on Twitter and you think you’ve gone deaf, don’t worry. I’m just taking the month of October off and trying to raise a few shekels for Teckels, my local animal sanctuary. I set a modest goal of £100, and we’ve gone past that already, but this worthy gauntcause would welcome anything you can spare.

Oddly, I’m not missing Twitter as much as I thought I would, and I’m getting lots done. One beneficiary is my radio blog on the website of Britain’s best weekly magazine, The Lady, which I will be making an effort to update more often. I’ve started today with a few words about Jon Gaunt and Fubar Radio.

Some advice for Mr Gaunt with regard to his payment. There is a marvellous piece of legislation called the Late Payment Directive, that allows contractors to add fees and interest to money they are owed, and makes payment past 60 days after the fulfilment of the contract technically illegal. Of course, the Europhobic Gaunt will hate the fact that this handy piece of law emanates from Brussels, but needs must.

Oh, and he really needs to update his Twitter bio. Two untrue statements in six words. Quite an achievement.

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Bloody bleeding clueless

Right, so you know that when they took down the BBC logo from the wall of TC1, they got all three letters down safely, and then the wind caught one of them when it was on the ground, smashing it? Having a chat with someone on Twitter about the vandalism of the act and the unfortunate symbolism of the accident. Then this pops up.

“Hope it was the B for Britain after BBC’s disgraceful bias in Scottish referendum. ?#?IndyScot?”

Oh, give it a bloody rest, will you?

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Fun dog day afternoon

I am bursting with pride. My darling girl, Lyttelton, scooped Best Veteran at Teckels’ lytteltonFun Dog Show in Frampton-on-Severn today. Teckels’ is a fine organisation, combining rehoming with kennel and cattery services for those going on holiday. If you’re in the west country, I can’t recommend them enough, having entrusted my wayward pup Jessamy Beagle to them for a week last October. If they can put up with her, they must be good.

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Gladwell all over

I caught a little of this Malcolm Gladwell chap on Desert Island Discs this morning. I’d heard the name before, but nothing of his work. The first impression I reached was that he was an appalling pseud. And the second impression. And the third. And so on.

Almost the first thing he said was that it is far easier to make someone laugh than to make them cry. This was said with a smug flourish, as though it was proven fact. It’s wrong, though, isn’t it? You can make someone cry by kneeing them in the groin. Easy. Then he said to Kirsty Young “I will make you laugh several times during this show, but I won’t make you cry”. That’s a bold prophecy, Malcy. I WILL MAKE YOU LAUGH. Nobody can say they will make anyone else laugh with any confidence. Even experienced comedians have situations where material that should be a banker dies on its arse.

Anyway, I’d like to see how Gladwell would have fared first house Monday at Glasgow Empire. My guess is that he wouldn’t have made the audience laugh, but they would have made him cry and shit himself.

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Pussy riot

The other day, I found a peevish little note on my doormat, headed ‘Cat Menace‘. It was from a chap who lives around the corner, bemoaning local cats shitting in his garden and killing birds. It is an issue with which I would have had some sympathy if not for the tone of the man’s missive, particularly the last line. “If we continue to be plagued by cats, drastic action will be taken”, he declarmowforth_menaceed. With the story of the nasty old git in Lancashire who poisoned his neighbours’ cats with anti-freeze fresh in my mind, this line struck me as a very clear threat, so I sent a scan of it to the local police, and dropped a note through my neighbour’s door that read as follows:

“Dear Mr Mowforth,

Thank you for your bizarre and unwelcome communication, re: ‘Cat Menace’. While I appreciate your situation fully, the line “If we continue to be plagued by cats, drastic action will be taken” comes across as a threat. A gentleman in Lancashire who poisoned his neighbours’ cats has just been fined £125, plus £1665 in costs. I have passed your round robin on to the local police.

Happy World Cat Day to you.

Yours sincerely,
Louis Barfe”

He clearly hasn’t thought it through. If a cat is now found dead anywhere in Dursley, whether poisoned, strangled or matted with Harry Monk following a bizarre sex ritual, your man is going to be the prime suspect. Other elements of the note baffle and amuse.

“They come to…leave their excrement”. First of all, I would suggest that they don’t actually visit Dr Mowforth’s garden with the express purpose of leaving excrement. It just happens while they’re there. Also, the lack of opposable thumbs means that they would be unable to pick their leavings up, even if they wished to do so.

Then there is the whole concept of keeping cats under control. Old expressions about something being as impossible as herding cats and the surest way to make a cat want to move being to hold it by its tail spring to mind. It’s nearly 20 years since I last had a housemate of the feline persuasion, but I know well enough that a) you can’t control them, b) they kill things and c) they shit where you least want them to shit. In short, cats are bastards, but some of them can be quite likeable bastards.

This evening, I received a telephone call from a police officer to tell me that Dr Mowforth had been visited by members of the Gloucestershire force who gave him some advice. The officer told me that he doubted whether Dr Mowforth would do anything like it again. Draw from that what you will.

After receiving the note, I did a little research and found that Dr Mowforth has a history of misguided campaigns. He has a website devoted to criticising the local golf club vehemently and at great length. There are numerous rights of way across the golf course, but Dr Mowforth regards it as his prerogative to use them when the fairways are in use, much to the irritation of the golf club members. I walk my own dogs on the golf course daily, and have found the golfers to be reasonable and friendly, almost without exception. Common sense and a little give and take are invariably present on both sides. The golfers are happy to delay their shots as long as I cross the fairway quickly, and equally, I’m happy to wait until they’ve played their shot, or walk around them.

Dr Mowforth also owns a frankly surreal website devoted to naming and shaming a landscape gardener who slighted him 14 years ago. When it comes to renewing the domain each year, has he never thought that maybe it’s time to let sleeping dogs lie?

He claims to have received arson threats, but according to the Daily Telegraph, Gloucestershire Constabulary have not received notification of any such threats. If anyone threatened to fire-bomb me, I doubt I would leave the matter unreported. I can’t help but wonder whether he didn’t mishear another word for ‘arson’. Yes, that’s right. The story has made it into the local press, the Torygraph and the Independent. I know it’s silly season, but are they really that desperate?

While, as an alumnus of Oxford University, he is entitled to call himself an ‘Oxford scientist’ (would I describe myself as a ‘Lancaster author’?),mowforth_a4a it lends him undeserved credence. For a man of undoubted intelligence, he seems to lack sense, in particular a sense of proportion. Asking around locally, he seems to be regarded as a tedious and vindictive self-publicist, far better described as a ‘Severn bore’.

As such, I’ve prepared a note for my neighbours about another local menace that might not leave a trail of actual excrement, but who manages to stink up quite a nice locality.

 

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Novel-gazing

This has annoyed me*. With publishing in a terrible state, Penguin US have seen fit to commission a ‘conceptual artist’ called Cory Arcangel (funny way to spell ‘Nathan Barley’, but there you go) to ‘carefully curate’ a book of tweets where people talk about working on their novel. All, presumably, people who would love an in at Penguin US. Arcangel gets his name on the front, despite having written none of the contents. His sole contribution to the book appears to be the (admittedly quite nice) drawing of a kettle. Or maybe it’s Nigel Havers. Hard to tell these days. Anyway, it is appalling, nasty, snotty, exploitative shitehawkery of the first water. Whichever smirking, tragically hip dullard commissioned this needs to get back to their slush pile and look for some proper books, stat. Of course, on this issue, nobody can top Pete and Dud:

“I’m writing a novel.” “Really? Neither am I.”

*Maybe intentionally.

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Not Keane

Last night, BBC News showed an aeroplane seat in a field, with the dead occupant’s hand visible. Just in case you hadn’t grasped that actual human beings had died when MH17 was shot down. Then some soft toys, in case you’d missed that some of them were children. Maybe the point was to show that the debris was there for anyone to film or tamper with, which is a very valid concern, but a skilled journalist would have found some other way. This was Damien Day shit. There’s no need for this, Fergal Keane, you appalling shitehawk.

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Stan Tracey (1926-2013)

I thought Stan Tracey was immortal. I hoped he was. In a sense, he is. He was my ultimate musical hero. As Spike Milligan was to my outlook on comedy, Stan was to my musical world. The one to whom everything else that mattered was connected, and the one I turned to when nothing else would do. Tracey was not merely a pianist of distinction, but also a fine composer and my favourite big band arranger bar none. Listen to any of his big band records and enjoy those distinctive textures.

I once found myself at dinner with several academics, one of whom was regarded as a jazz expert. He asked me about my heroes. When I said “Stan Tracey”, this chap dismissed him as “just a Monk copyist”. The red mist descended, and I told him forcefully that if he thought that he can’t have heard anything Stan recorded after 1957, and that while Monk and the Duke had been his main influences, he was his own man. The academic looked shocked at the reaction and apologised. I think what made Stan were those years of hard work as the house accompanist at Ronnie’s. He played with everyone, absorbed it all, added his own thing, and it came out as something very special and original.

When I lived in London, I tried to catch his monthly residency at the Bull’s Head in Barnes as often as I could. For a tenner, I could hear a legend and enjoy a few pints of Young’s Special while I was doing so. Once, after one of those shows, I approached Stan with a copy of the Ace of Clubs reissue of Little Klunk (on which Decca got his name wrong), which I had just acquired from Reckless Records in Berwick Street at considerable expense. As he signed the back of the sleeve, I told him how much it had cost me. He laughed, and called over to his wife Jackie: “Can you believe it? This one goes for 40 quid now”. Jackie’s amused look back at us was a combination of ‘The world’s gone mad’ and ‘Why didn’t I keep a few of those by?’, which would have been my reaction too. I expressed dismay that many of his early recordings were out of catalogue. “I guess I’m just a deletable sort of guy,” Stan smiled as he handed me back the inscribed LP.  Not so. Stan was the least deletable of all men, but now he has gone.  Many years later, I sent him a letter asking what he remembered about appearing on Sez Les with Anita O’Day. Had he talked piano with Les Dawson? He rang me, very apologetically, to tell me he couldn’t remember much about it, but that it was an in-and-out job, and he didn’t get to speak to Les. I thanked him profusely. Stan Tracey ringing me at home. That was enough. A wry, funny, modest man who happened to be a musical colossus.

Mercifully, we still have the recordings to remind us what we’ve lost – the LPs, the television and radio appearances, the bootlegs. The last of these are vitally important. I give thanks that some naughty individuals took recording devices into gigs and captured Stan in full flight, free of the restrictions of the studio and the red light. What you’ll hear below is one such recording, a joyous tear-through of Bye Bye Blackbird, with Mornington Lockett, Mark Armstrong, Andy Cleyndert and Stan’s son Clark. That was one of the things Stan seemed to relish. Taking sentimental songs uptempo and making them life-affirming. He made My Way bearable by reverting to the original French title, Comme d’Habitude, and turning it into a brisk samba. RIP Stan. You were the best.

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Dog gnaws dog

A while back, when I still lived in the mysterious east, I found myself writing about one of the presenters on the BBC local radio station I favoured. BBC Radio Norfolk is a superb station, one with a rock-solid sense of identity and some excellent presenters. However, there was one I just couldn’t bear, a chap called Nick Conrad. I felt his style jarred. When I realised that he’d come from LBC, it all fell into place. What works on LBC doesn’t necessarily work in East Anglia. For the most part, I felt it best to offer my criticism by tuning out for the duration of his show, but just occasionally, I heard bits and pieces that reinforced my judgment. One day, I heard something so unintentionally hilarious, I felt I had to place it on record somehow. It being one of those fallow periods when I was without a regular radio column, I wrote about it here.

There was a follow-up. As an occasional contributor to BBC Radio Norfolk’s output, I knew people who worked with Conrad. One contacted me to tell me how unhappy Conrad had been at the piece, and I based this post on what I had been told.

So, you can well imagine that I was surprised to receive a message from Conrad today, two years on, via Facebook. I reproduce the entire correspondence here without comment. Make of it what you will.

Conversation started today

12:04
Nick Conrad

Hi Louis, Is there any chance you could send me your mob number as I would very much like to discuss a possible radio feature with you? Regards, Nick Conrad

14:08
Louis Barfe

Hello Nick. I’m not really interested, whatever it is. Thanks.

16:18
Nick Conrad

Ok Louis,

Here is a summary of what I was going to suggest, rather than call.

Today on the show we were discussing cyber bullying and its effects on youngsters. I explained to listeners about your blog and some of the criticisms about me that you’ve highlighted online. I of course protected your identity. I read your blog with disappointment BUT even though I thoroughly disliked what you’ve written (both about me and others) I’d defend your right to speak freely. I’d strongly argue your reputation came off worse!

With this in mind, I told listeners this morning I’d make contact with you and ask whether you’d be prepare to come on air and speak openly about why you aired you views online. The piece is designed to be mature and in NO WAY an opportunity for one-upmanship or abuse. This isn’t retaliation, public humiliation or a chance to defame you.

It would be of extreme interest, following our recent on air discussion, to speak with someone who has used the Internet to be so critical of me in such a frank and explicit way. We’d be more than happy to just use your Christian name or give you a pseudonym.

The crux of my irritation is – why a professional man like you gets such a kick out of writing such material? Why online, why not phone in and face me? And why waste such energy, time and effort in attempting to bring somebody down?

You may be surprised by my request but the programme is extremely open and honest and we draw on experiences. I intend to talk again on this matter live tomorrow and would highly value your input as part of an insightful discussion. Unless you choose otherwise I will endeavor to keep you identity concealed, as I’d would not want to provoke a counter reaction against you.

We’ve never met, you appear keen to court controversy and provoke a reaction from me. In return you’ll continue to receive a professional and warm welcome to the programme if you choose to take me up on this opportunity…

Regards,

Nick Conrad

16:34
Louis Barfe

Even less interested than before, Nick. No light would be generated by us talking about this on air, only heat. You’re a radio presenter. I’ve been a radio critic off and on for the last 12 years. I write books. People review and criticise them. If you stick your head above the parapet, you must expect some arrows in your hat.

I “appear keen to court controversy and provoke a reaction from” you? I celebrate good radio and criticise bad radio, but I do the latter very sparingly. I wrote those posts two years ago. Since then, I’ve avoided your programmes actively. Check my columns in The Lady over the last 18 months. You’ll find them overwhelmingly positive. There’s too much good radio about to waste words on the dross, but just occasionally I hear something so buttock-clenchingly awful, I have to pass comment. So it was with you and your show.

Oh, and we have met, very briefly, back when I used to do bits with the great Bumfrey. Anyway, feel free to name and shame, and you’re welcome to use any of the above (I assume the courtesy works both ways?) but be sure to mention my books. If you can do the whole sequence over the Simon Bates ‘Our Tune’ theme, even better.

L

18:57
Nick Conrad

Ok, shame you don’t put your head above the parapet and have the guts to come on! You’re tone, wording and assessment wasn’t that of a critic it was that of a playground bully! Shame your reply to a pleasant invitation is equally as condescending and irrelevant as your original blog! A decent critic delivers his assessment with intelligence…..you can barely hide your jealousy!!!! I’m twenty eight! I’ve anchored national news channels, held shows on 5 Live and LBC. I have seven BBC Local radio shows and present on BBC 1, ITV and Channel 5. A worthwhile critic would come from a fellow professional who has some wisdom to impart? What on earth qualifies a failed writer, a failed broadcaster and a failed blogger to pass comment is beyond me!

Obviously none of that would have been said on air but maybe it’s something to chew on?! Now how long till you repost this and spill out more vile hateful bollocks OR……take my criticism, call it quits and accepts we have little time for each other.

Regards, Nick Conrad!

19:19
Louis Barfe

Nick,

I’ve barely given you a thought in the past two years, whereas you appear to have been dwelling on the matter. I can smell a stitch-up a mile off, and I know what to expect from someone with a bee in their bonnet and the ability to fade me out. I shall post our entire correspondence on my failed blog without comment and let others draw their conclusions.

L

 

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The name’s the game

The following post appeared originally on my light entertainment blog, LE Confidential, but there are some hosting issues that mean the site’s down at the moment. I’ve mirrored it here because people are asking me when the site will be back up.

Yesterday, on Twitter, ‘child protection expert’* Mark Williams-Thomas named a celebrity who was being interviewed under caution by police as part of Operation Yewtree. In a curious construction, he said that it was “part of #Savile other #sexual offences”. His tweet was retweeted extensively.

This morning, he told his followers to “[r]emember if you are going to RT tweets they may be relevant to a certain time & may not be the same hours later”. It might have helped his followers assess the relevance of the tweet if he had subsequently added that the celebrity in question had been released without charge. If I said that Mark Williams-Thomas went on trial at Chichester Crown Court in June 2003 for blackmail, I would be stating nothing other than a fact. However, it would be highly irresponsible of me not to add that Williams-Thomas was acquitted.

No news outlets named the man, referring only to a man in his 80s from Berkshire. The main source for the identification of the celebrity is Mark Williams-Thomas, and many  unpleasant, prejudiced comments about the personality have resulted, some Twitter users clearly having learned absolutely nothing from the whole McAlpine episode.

There is also another problematic dimension. There is no suggestion anywhere that the interview concerned child abuse offences.  Indeed, official sources stress that there is no connection between these allegations and the Savile business. In all of the coverage of Dave Lee Travis’ recent visit to a police station that I saw, only Damon Green’s report on ITV News made absolutely clear that the accusations came from women who were adults at the time of the alleged incidents. However, when a ‘child protection expert’ names a celebrity who has been interviewed by police as “part of #Savile other #sexual offences”, how many people are going to make that leap of assumption and lump this person in with Savile? Today’s Daily Mirror front page headline, “Savile cops quiz kids presenter”, is a nasty piece of innuendo. The effect of that five word statement is potentially far more than the sum of its parts.

* Please note that I am not putting this in quotes to pour scorn on the description. I am merely making it clear that I am quoting from Williams-Thomas’ own Twitter biography.

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