30 December, 2007

Absent friends

It's hard to recall a year like this, where so many stars of a particular generation passed away. Fate and misfortune robbed the world of a battery of celebrities who for many will always and only be associated with growing up. They were ubiquitous faces on the TV and voices on the radio during childhood and all the way through teenagehood. Folk that shaped, overtly and indirectly, your formative years. Bits of your own past, now gone forever.

Over there's Mike Reid, leaning on shabby punchlines and propping up an equally grotty bar. Next to him is George Melly, his hat at a suitably rakish angle, spouting surrealist nonsense and hollering jazz. Holding forth with similar volume at a nearby table is Nigel Dempster, enthusiastically sharing a bit of gossip with Alan Coren. In an adjacent alcove sits Ned Sherrin, ruefully dispensing anecdotage of five decades' vintage. Listening in is David Hatch, judiciously nodding in agreement and adding his own one-liners with aplomb. Magnus Magnusson interjects from time to time to correct the speakers' grammar. Somewhere in the background, Ronnie Hazelhurst coaxes jewel-encrusted tunes from an upright piano.

Through the swing door and in the snug rests Ian Richardson, cooking up conspiracies and bringing down governments between sips of dry sherry. Gareth Hunt eavesdrops with awe. Lois Maxwell hangs on every word. Tony Wilson and Kevin Greening man the jukebox. Verity Lambert settles the bill. And by the window, in the fading light, Ingmar Bergman captures it all through a glass darkly.

28 December, 2007

Talking heads '77

The latest annual batch of secret papers declassified under the 30-Year Rule* makes, as ever, for great reading.

They always do, by virtue of being 30 years old in the first place, and for originally being considered so desperately important as to be hushed up for so long. But given we're now deep into Cream territory, the revelations have that much more potency than those being released, say, 10 years ago, when all the talk was of mid-60s George Brown and gigatrons.

For one thing, this year's dose, from 1977, reek of particular kinds of crises you just don't get anymore; crises that threatened the way people went about their lives day to day, not abstract crises involving sub-prime mortgages and bluetongue disease.

Windscale, Grunwick, the Lib-Lab pact, sterling, prices (of course)... yup, Britain in the late 70s was a far more hands-on, gritty, grubby place, where the stuff they talked about in Parliament actually affected the cost of a loaf of bread or whether you'd be able to afford to fill the car with petrol before pay day.

Tony Benn pops up a few times, almost getting sacked, flogging reactors to the Middle East and refusing to switch on the spotlights outside London's public buildings during the Jubilee because it wasted energy.

Again, you don't get these kinds of folk anymore: career politicos, if you like, who don't hold especially high ranking jobs but are in the Government and who become national talking points. Peter Shore, Merlyn Rees, Eric Varley, Albert Booth, Fred Mulley: all ministers, and all - you'd think - figures likely to provoke an instant reaction among the population at the time. Fast forward today and, well, the rest of this sentence writes itself.

Special mention for the obligatory would-you-credit-it story, this year involving Thatcher getting stuck in the loo. Still, at least for once she couldn't go around blaming the cistern ((C) Janet Brown).

*Something that still sounds like a relic from a rejected Yes, Minister storyline.

24 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 24

And a very merry Christmas to all of you at home...


23 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 23

This month's Word magazine contains ostensibly definitive inventories of both the best and worst Christmas songs of all time. But as usual Fairytale Of New York is in the wrong list.

Why this wretched dirge of a tune - "two drunks shouting", in the words of Neil Tennant - repeatedly fails to not be nominated as one of greatest festive anthems ever is a mystery. You can't hear the words. Both vocalists compete in a grisly battle to outdo each other in terms of ear-shredding histrionics. It was covered by Ronan Keating. And it goes on for about half an hour.

Where Word has got it right, though, is placing War Is Over* by Johnandyokonolennon in the 'bad' list. Nobody wants to be lectured at over a mince pie**.

*(No It Isn't)
**Macca's sublime Wonderful Christmastime, however, doesn't make it into either chart, despite being effortlessly hummable, deceptively simple, and not having any choirs of kids or the missus wailing in the background.

22 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 22

This is more like it: the official BBC group publicity shot for Christmas 1991, with everyone's favourite Santa - Clive James - surrounded by a none-more-early-90s ensemble of Bill Owen, Alan Cumming, Ernie Wise, Mike Smith, Lenny Henry, Mike Reid, Kirsten Cooke, Carmen Silvera and Danniella Westbrook. "Please Santa, all I want for Christmas is...another joke about Yasmin Arafat."

21 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 21

A solitary question today. Where - precisely - does snow have to fall for it to be officially classed as a white Christmas in the United Kingdom?

20 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 20

It's more than high time for an appearance from Sir Bob Monkhouse:

December 1995
"What a peculiar year it's been. Tory Party Chairman Brian Mawhinney had paint lobbed over him by protestors and was overcome with emulsion. During a flight to Saudi Arabia, BA managed to lose a coffin - it's bad enough waiting at the carousel when your suitcase doesn't come round. Liz Hurley announced her plans to star in an 007 James Bond spoof and there was a part for Hugh Grant, a sort of cross between Blofeld and Oddjob. That's right, he's called Oddfeld. And J. Howard Marshall died at the age of ninety. He was the multi-billionaire who was, for the last eighteen months of his life, married to the amply curved Anna Nicole Smith. The only man to die and leave heaven."

19 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 19

It's guess the ident time (you knew it was coming). Can you match the logo with the correct Christmas? The years to choose from are:

1) 1979
2) 1982
3) 1994
4) 1996

a)









b)









c)









d)






18 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 18

Someone's in for a surprise at the Thames Television Christmas lunch.

17 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 17

Just one question today:

Who, in the history of television, has starred in the most number of Christmas specials?

16 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 16

And you thought John Tusa talking about drug addicts was depressing. Here's the worst Christmas Day line-up of programmes mustered by BBC2, or indeed any channel, ever. Take your pick from some "spectacular photography" of Hawaii, a "subtitled version" of the Queen's speech, an Italian film, or five hours of the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Concert.

"It's good to have your company today," avows the continuity announcer, bravely.

15 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 15

Here's the front cover of the best Christmas single ever released. Three points, as Simon Mayo used to say, to anybody who can identify it.


14 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 14

It's Christmas on BBC2. Cary Grant is "not going back to Yale." "Not geing beck?" replies his posh compadre. It's the first in a season of his greatest hits.

And then...it's Newsnight's December! Not Newsnight. No. Newsnight's December. With John Tusa, apparently sitting in a comfy chair his own home, sporting a stripey blazer. "Welcome to another of our monthly programmes," he intones pompously, featuring some of Newsnight's "more notable films...or that you may have missed."

But wait. He has some particularly cheery Christmas fare for us. "One of the most worrying social problems of all: drug addiction." Humbug!

13 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 13

Pretty much everything from the 1950s isn't worth remembering, which is why TV Cream has little to do with it. The same goes for 1950s Christmas number ones which, rather spectacularly, nobody seems to remember at all. Ever.

Indeed, discussion of seminal festive chart-toppers tends to begin in 1973 with Slade's Merry Christmas Everybody, wisely omitting the number one of 12 months previously (Long Haired Lover From Liverpool) but cruelly overlooking that of 1971 (Ernie The Fastest Milkman In The West), 1970 (I Hear You Knocking) and, yes, Two Little Boys in 1969.

The Beatles had four Xmas number ones which nobody has beaten - hooray - and all of them are, quite rightly, superb.

However when you spool all the way back to that grisly decade that seemed to consist entirely of woman opening brand new refrigerators, old men with handkerchiefs on their head on Blackpool pier, hotel signs reading NO COLOUREDS and jivers standing by hissing coffee machines, there's not even a Rolf or a Benny for solace.

1956 has to hold the record for the most out-and-out miserable Christmas number one: Walking In The Rain by Johnny Ray. A decent enough song, sure, but not really in keeping with the season.

Harry Belafonte's Mary's Boy Child (1957) and Dickie Valentine's Christmas Alphabet (1955) are, respectively, just a touch too sacred and slapdash ("and 'A' is for the angels who make up the Christmas list" - since when?).

It's Only Make Believe by Conway Twitty (1958) is a dirge while What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For? by Emile Ford and the Checkmates (1959) sounds like it's being sung into a giant plughole.

That just leaves tonsil-troubling crooners Frankie Laine (Answer Me in 1953) and Al Martino (Here In My Heart in 1952), plus ivory-tickling Winifred Atwell with Let's Have Another Party in 1954. This five minute and 19 second marathon party medley comprised plinky out-of-tune* piano renditions of (deep breath):

Another Little Drink
Broken Doll
Bye Bye Blackbird
Honeysuckle And The Bee
I Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight
Lily Of Laguna
Nellie Dean
Sheik Of Araby
Somebody Stole My Gal
When The Red Red Robin

...but not a Christmas carol to be seen! For shame! At least the robin got a look in.

Roll on Sir Cliff...

*Why did all 1950s pianos sound like this? Were professional tuners on the ration book, like eggs and preserves?

12 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 12

Ah yes, the Christmas Day comedy special. A chance to wash down the excesses of the day with a dose of light humour and polished laughs. A chance to sit back and relax in the company of shows like...

Get Some In! (1975)
Gags about ration cards, veal and "darkies"? Shhhh, most people will be too pissed to notice.

Two's Company (1976)
Elaine Stritch and Donald Sinden bicker over the bon-bons.

Are You Being Served? (1977)
"Mrs Slocombe, Captain Peacock would like to know if you need someone to give your turkey a stuffing."

George And Mildred (1979)
The last ever episode, called 'The 26 Year Itch'. Spoiler: after four years and five series it was to be left unscratched.

Father's Day (1983)
Channel 4's first and, for a while, only homegrown sitcom, done so cheaply that lead John Alderton had to wear his own clothes.

Hi-De-Hi (1985)
Hmm. Hard to see how this would have leant itself to a Christmas special. The gang stage an out-of-season revue to raise money to buy Mr Partridge a new pair of spectacles? A charity pantomime ends in tears when Spike refuses to play the fairy godmother?

Dear John (1987)
More cheery fare. Though you'd surely take this over My Family any day.

Bread (1988)
Oh dear god. A bunch of people joylessly bickering round the dinner table, shouting insults and blubbing and storming off and coming back and joylessly bickering some more. Cue titles. Cue 69 (count 'em!) more minutes of bickering.

11 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 11

A trio of music-related riddles are clearing their throat behind today's door.

1) Which Christmas number one did journalist David Quantick describe as "the sound of the gods making love"?

2) Who were the only people to appear on both the 1984 and 1989 versions of 'Do They Know It's Christmas?'?

3) Who puzzled over the eternal theological conundrum "black, white, yellow - no-one knows", in front of what distinctive brand of BBC proppery?

10 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 10

Why aren't there TV bosses like this anymore?


09 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 9

Here's Michael Palin, recalling his experiences at the BBC Light Entertainment Christmas Party:

Sunday 19th December, 1976
"Everything in full swing when we arrived, but as I hadn't been since the 1973 party, we went in the wrong entrance and found ourselves in a small ante-room, empty save for Jimmy Savile crouched over a large plate of food. A cheery exchange and we walk through to find a throng of people we once saw so much. Tim Brooke-Taylor and I commiserate over our eternal branding together in John's mind as 'nice' people."

Sunday 18th December, 1977
"The usual lot. Val Doonican and Eric Sykes seem to be still fans - Doonican is especially enthusiastic and towards the end of the evening even Eric Morecambe grasps my hand warmly. 'Great fan,' he says. 'Great fan.' Talk to Richard Beckinsale and Judy Loe, who, with me, Ian Davidson and the Goodies, seem to represent the 'younger generation' in a sea of old and well-established faces."

08 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 8

Where are the quizzes? Right here!

TV Christmas specials is today's theme:

a) What was different about the kind of format Coronation Street adopted to mark Christmas 1975, and then also at Christmas 1987?

b) In the Christmas episode of Yes Minister, what was the central issue of the campaign Jim Hacker used as his bid for Prime Minister?

c) Which never-popular yet endlessly-repeated sitcom mustered a Christmas episode boasting a cameo from David Jacobs?

07 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 7

The new edition of Radio Times features, on its cover, the promise that no fewer than six stars have been assembled to "recall Parky's finest hours". Understandably this made for a very slim feature, hence the number of photos shoehorned into the text. Sadly absent, however, is the hitherto undiscovered snapshot reproduced below, of the man playing the part of a miserable old grouch who hates everything new and can't abide being told what to do by anybody under the age of 75 - a role, for the Thames Ditton community centre pantomime production of A Christmas Carol, he took to unsurprisingly easily.


06 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 6

Another promotional launch, this time from 1973. Benny Hill, Black Beauty, Sid James, Barbara Windsor, Danny La Rue, Jack Smethurst and Hughie Green (and a traffic warden). No need to guess which channel.


05 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 5

Half a dozen unlikely festive telly treats from Christmas Days of old.

1) A GIFT FOR GRACIE (ITV, 1970)
60 minutes of variety from Miss Fields's place, in reality a Yorkshire Television studio converted into a mock-18th century mansion with the likes of Harry Secombe, Arthur Askey, Lionel Blair and The Mike Sammes Singers "happening" to stop by in a House Party-esque fashion. At least Brucie was on hand, playing the role of "butler".

2) CHRISTMAS WITH WOGAN (ITV, 1972)
"Avast ye - do I spy an obligatory pair of elasticated socks?" Whatever this was, it was assuredly the best bit of the gargantuan 105-minute long All Star Comedy Carnival, hosted by Jimmy Tarbuck.

3) MEET PETERS AND LEE (BBC1, 1974)
30 minutes of comedy and music with Lennie P and Dianne L, together, according to Radio Times, "for the first time". But they'd had a number one 18 months earlier!

4) CROSSROADS (ITV, 1975)
"David Hunter extends an invitation which may prove very embarrassing."

5) ROBINSON CRUSOE AND THE TIGER (ITV, 1977)
A film so dull that its entire cast list read: "Robinson Crusoe; Friday; A Tiger".

6) A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF AN EXMOOR MAN (BBC2, 1980)
"The film follows Tom's year, from sheep-shearing to lambing...". Nifty counter-scheduling from the Beeb to coincide with the nation's post-Christmas dinner snooze.

04 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 4

Kenneth Williams is waiting behind today's door, ready to share his memories of Christmas 27 years ago...

Tuesday 23rd December 1980
"Saw Louie and we watched the Les Dawson Show. The format is wrong but he continually triumphs. There are endless repetitions of the same joke on TV this year. Son to father (apropos Christmas present) 'I've got my eye on this bike' and the father replies 'Well keep your eye on it cos you ain't getting your arse on it.' Then there is 'Why do they have to have Christmas in December when all the shops are so crowded?' The only thing that did make me laugh was when the Ghost of Christmas asked Dawson 'What about the Cratchits?' and he replied 'They're fine - I think that ointment's done the trick.'"

03 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 3

The quizzery has been axed. At least for today. Instead, lurking behind today's door are...the faces of BBC's 1981 Christmas season! In search of some figgy pudding (and they won't go until they've GOT SOME) are Isla St Clair, John Inman, June Whitfield, Kenny Everett, Dana and, er, Jan Leeming.


02 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 2

Well, judging by the number of responses so far, this advent calendar thing is clearly going to be a thunderously popular feature.

Anyway, here's a trio of festive teasers that, failing to prompt any answers, might at least divert somebody's attention for a few seconds.

a) What song did Peter Duncan perform in the 1986 Blue Peter special Christmas panto edition?

b) What was the name of the special EastEnders spin-off shown on Boxing Day in 1988, and when was it set?

c) From which incredibly exciting location did Keith Chegwin host part of BBC1's New Year's Eve festivities in 1983?

01 December, 2007

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 1

Hello and welcome to this convenient December blog-filling feature.

Every day a seasonal puzzler, photo or pontification will be awaiting your attention, the solution (if there is one) supplied, if and when anybody has a go, via the blog comments tool.

To kick off with, it's a riddle-me-ree that even Noel in his Telly Addicts pomp would surely have welcomed: a Christmas listings magazine covers quiz.

Can you identify the year, and the publication (either Radio Times or TV Times), for these six yuletide tableaux?

1) Jack Smethurst and Rudolph Walker as 'The Black And White Santas'.

2) Roger Moore pushing Janet Brown (in full Mrs T garb) through the snow in a skidoo.

3) Eric, Ern, Brucie and Lulu in a circus ring.

4) Bet Lynch dressed as Santa Claus handing Hilda Ogden a present.

5) A gaudy painting of Charles, Diana and baby decorating a Christmas tree.

6) Eric, Ern, Cilla and Rolf gathered around a table groaning with festive food and gifts.

29 November, 2007

"Hello, I'm Penny Wise"

Chris Hughes has pointed out that new designs for every coin are being introduced next year, and wonders - rightly - why there has been no official publicity about this whatsoever.

Where, he contends, was the design-a-coin competition on Blue Peter? Where was the official announcement (which should, by rights, have been made by Alistair Darling as a guest on The One Show, in front of some blown-up giant-sized coins)?

And where is the publicity campaign, featuring an animated character called Penny Wise, voiced by Penelope Keith?

And is there going to be a special launch programme on BBC1, hosted by Huw Edwards and Evan Davies, with guest appearances from Sir Alan Sugar and Peter Jones; roving reports from Saira Khan and Matt Baker; mini-skits with the casts of Robin Hood ("Yes, Sheriff, I certainly do give to the poor...this bag of shiny newly-minted coins!") and EastEnders ("'Ere, Minty, what's this funny money? Are you trying to diddle me?"); plus the stars of Strictly Come Dancing performing to Pennies From Heaven?

27 November, 2007

Timothy Lumsden to a disco beat

A guaranteed floor-filler, surely.

25 November, 2007

"Marrrrrccccccuusssssssss!"

By way of a belated tribute:

HALF A DOZEN VERITY VICTORIES...

1) DR WHO
She didn't want any BEMs - Bug Eyed Monsters - and hence the Daleks were born. A hundred years later Jon P'twee shows up on Good Morning With Anne And Nick to ask viewers the competition question: who created "those pepperpots"? Correct answer: not Terry Nation. Not Davros. Not even Russell T Davies...

2) GBH
"I knew a missionary once. He said it was an interesting position." The best drama Channel 4 has ever done, the best script Alan Bleasdale has ever written, the best thing Robert Lindsay has ever done. Plus the best Julie Walters-doing-an-old-woman Julie Walters has ever done. "Are you Dirty Den?"

3) DANGER UXB
Anthony Andrews does his best not to get blown up by unexploded bombs in south London during World War Two. Everybody else tries, and fails. Meanwhile Iain Cuthbertson boils up increasingly preposterous bomb disposal magic potions, Kenneth Cranham loses his marbles, and the band play on.

4) JONATHAN CREEK
It had an episode with a plot involving a copy of Radio Times and a cameo from Michael Grade. What more does anyone need?

5) REILLY - ACE OF SPIES
Sam Neill gets planted inside newly-Revolutionised Russia by Peter Egan to sabotage the best-laid plans of Bolshie bastards Kenneth Cranham - him again - and David Burke. David Suchet looks in as Inspector Tsientsin. Troy "Edge Of..." Kennedy Martin wrote it. The most expensive thing Thames TV/Euston Films/Verity ever did.

6) MINDER
Worth saluting not least for perpetrating that rare art of jumping the shark (Minder On The Orient Express) then jumping back again (Gary Webster in for Dennis Waterman).


...AND A TRIO OF LAMBERT LUMMOXES

1) QUATERMASS
John Mills tries to evade the clutches of a cackling Ethel Skinner off EastEnders while a battery of long-haired crusties chant drivel about "huffety puffety ringstone round" and Wembley Stadium gets covered in a thousand tons of chalk dust. Thankfully everyone gets blown up at the end.

2) ELDORADO
Not even repeated bursts of Trish Valentine karaoke on the beach could drown out the sound of a million television sets being switched off. Ditto the endless cries of "Marrrrrccccccuusssssssss!"

3) VAN DER VALK
Barry Humphries minces around Amsterdam in a seedy raincoat looking discombobulated while Simon Park and his orchestra parp in the background. Verity picked it up off the cutting room floor where Thames TV had dropped it. She should have left it there.

23 November, 2007

Verity Lambert RIP

"Just don't let me see any Bug Eyed Monsters!"


22 November, 2007

Make it happen

Now that Evan Davis is off to the Today programme - albeit for 12 months - vacancies are open for the position of host of Dragon's Den and BBC Economics Editor.

The former, quite clearly, needs to be filled by Greg Dyke. Having confirmed his ease at being able to trot out the same scripted bits of dialogue every bloody episode on Channel 4's recent Get Me The Producer, and given his own track record at business innovation (those 'Cut The Crap - Make It Happen' yellow cards for all BBC personnel), the man is a shoo-in. Besides, he's used to throwing money at doomed ventures, such as Channel Five (SATIRE).

As for Economics Editor, rather than merge the position with that of Business Editor, currently occupied by Robert "Errr" Peston, you really do need a separate appointment, someone with a light touch, affable personality and an eye for figures. Is Susannah Simons, sometime host of Channel 4's Business Daily, still around? Failing that, anybody got Joan Bakewell's number?

21 November, 2007

Shush a minute

If ever there was a time for the sentence "If ever there was a time for a country-wide poster campaign promoting discretion and lip-buttoning", then that time is now.

The practice of shutting up and keeping schtum used to be a national discipline. There must be dozens of poster prints, or at least stencil sets, gathering dust in a warehouse on the edge of a town somewhere that could easily be pressed back into service.

With 25 million bits of personal identification floating around and nobody quite sure who knows what about whom, some co-ordinated tongue-holding is clearly in order.

Bob Hoskins could front the campaign, in the guise of jovial Detective Inspector Ivor Difficulty (D.I. I.D. - do you see?), accompanied by David Mitchell as his sidekick PC Ben E. Fitz. The pair would journey around the country on the back of a flatbed truck, acting out skits and being interviewed - in character - on local news bulletins.

Jimmy Young, Joan Shenton and Rolf Harris would host a special telethon to raise money for the appointment of an Information Commissioner in every political constituency, operating out of small customised cubicles in shopping precincts.

Peter Kay could dress up as a giant child benefit form (anything to rob the man of some more dignity), and Danny Baker could do a few radio public information broadcasts.

Finally Simon Bates could organise a awareness-raising walk (plus accompanying charity single) from Tyne and Wear to London, along the route those two missing computer discs should have taken, hosting his Classic FM breakfast show from a different local council drop-in advice centre each morning.

19 November, 2007

"At least there's one happy end to the day!"

Tucked away at the very end of last night's epic excursion through the 1967 devaluation crisis on BBC Parliament was an edition of 24 Hours hailing from the night of Labour's 1968 Budget. And it was fantastic.

Bubbling away infectiously was Michael Barratt. Chuckling blithely was Cliff Michelmore. Both sat at different desks with different coloured backdrops, Cliff's all black to denote superiority, while Mike's was a bland grey.

Cigarette smoke drifted in front of the camera. Two union bosses grumbled and grunted about incomes policies. An indecently young looking Peter Jay droned on in precisely the same way he would proceed to do for the next 30 years. Mike did a round up of other news, including a press cutting from the Evening Standard containing a humorous misprint about the Archbishop of Canterbury - itself a correction of a misprint the previous day. Cliff tried to get in touch with Jamaica where England were about to win the test match.

Plus there was that staple of 1960s current affairs programmes, a topical skit. Hastily written and rehearsed in a matter of hours, it brought us "the Chancellor's other television budget address, his dummy run". Cue Nigel Hawthorne done up to look like Roy Jenkins, speech impediment and gigantic glasses present and correct, doing a tour de force to camera complete with ringing phones, giant calculating machines, an abacus and a collapsing briefcase.

Then it was back to Cliff for a sympathetic farewell consolation about all the new taxes on beer, tobacco and petrol, and into the jaunty end credits.

Why isn't there anything like this on TV anymore? Why is Newsnight something you feel compelled to watch not out of interest or fondness but duty? Or even boredom? Why can't current affairs be both heavyweight and light-hearted and not sacrifice a bit of charm in the process? And why, when it's attempted, is topical humour so clumsy and obvious?

There's still nothing, even after all these years, that comes close to rivalling the whole Tonight/24 Hours/Midweek small screen lineage of sending you to bed with the definitive full stop on the day.

17 November, 2007

"I hope this won't be the end of the Generation Game..."

Hmm. In retrospect he probably wished he'd chosen a different turn of phrase. Here's Brucie confessing "I do feel it is time to go" and taking his leave from his second home - for 13 years - on Christmas Eve, 1994. Rolf Harris, Susan George and Willie Rushton join in the obligatory end credit waving along with, presumably, the Trachtengruppe Schruns. "Merry Christmas, and see you soon..."

As an added treat, it's followed by a trailer for BBC1's Christmas Day evening schedule and then - ulp - the opening of the National Lottery Live, with Anthea and Gordon at the Hippodrome in Birmingham with the cast of Jack and the Beanstalk, where, by the look and sound of things, bedlam reigns.

15 November, 2007

Photo clippage #29

One of these men has worked tirelessly to make the world a better place through inspiring musical statements, mammoth live events and humanising the otherwise brutal image of the UK record industry. The other one is Bob Geldof.




13 November, 2007

If you want to help...

John Rivers gets in touch with Creamguide to say:

"When giving to charity this week, think not only of Children in Need, but that there are other charities and in fact people worthy of your good nature.

Cheryl Baker, for example."

11 November, 2007

Strait jacket required

It's been a while since the self-styled Bunty Bagshaw got herself in the papers for another "indiscreet remark". Well, all of a few weeks or so.

You'll probably have read how, the other day, she regaled listeners with the contention that, when out driving late one night, she'd almost run over a black person because "he was hard to see in the dark".

Cue a load of media twittering about how the woman is demented and can't be allowed on air and shouldn't be making "that kind of offensive remark". That "kind"? Is there some other kind of racist remark that isn't offensive?

Like each and every time before, however, she's escaped reparation to blithely sail forever onwards like some giant weather balloon floating into a dusk of indignity.

And just what was she doing motoring around after sundown when she presents a radio show that begins at 6am?

Anyway, in the annals of celebrity racialism her bleating is surely up there with Eric Clapton's "I'm with Enoch" recitation and that time when Phil Collins arrived on stage at the MOBO Awards, surveyed the audience and announced "It's suddenly got very dark in here."

09 November, 2007

Inevitable further Channel 4 anniversary waffle

(advance apologies for sounding like a particularly smug version of the Guardian's Media Monkey)

Last night's special event at the British Film Institute in London to mark the launch of Maggie Brown's history of Channel 4 was a disappointingly low-key affair. No Jeremy Isaacs or Michael Grade; no Muriel Gray or Roger Bolton; not even Cecil Korer looked in. Instead it was just Dick Fiddy on the microphone, followed by an appallingly vague and haphazard introduction from Luke Johnson, and then the author herself speaking from a lectern for an hour or so, mostly with her head buried in a pile of notes.

She promised a dozen or so clips which duly appeared but quickly turned from the exceptionally interesting to the all-too predictable.

First came footage of Isaacs and a woman publicist at some advertising conference in early 1982, awkwardly doing their best to sell the channel via a bit of heavily-scripted cross-talk and forced banter (to no audible response from their audience whatsoever). Next, some of The Friday Alternative advocating the end of the House Of Lords with primitive Paintbox graphics and a picture of Guy Fawkes.

It was followed by an extract from TV-am in early 1985 with Frostie ribbing Isaacs about their respective channels' dodgy early days, Isaacs refusing to name his favourite programme and proudly defining Channel 4 as the place to "have a jolly good argument", plus, for no reason at all, Peter Jay perched at one end of the sofa looking on and saying absolutely nothing. This was the best clip of the night.

Some Network 7 came next, and it had really weathered well. Sharp, witty, exciting: it was miles better than almost every current affairs or youth programme on telly today. But from here things started to go wrong. After Dark followed, but the most obvious clip imaginable: Oliver Reed falling over things and kissing feminists. Everyone in the world must have seen this footage by now; was there nothing else in the archive?

Then came a bit of GBH - the same bit that appeared in the Channel 4 At 25 documentary. Then a boring few minutes of Faking It, a bit of Queer Of Folk taped off the TV, not one but two extracts from Big Brother... Dammit, this was the pedigree of your Sky One talking heads show, not the BFI!

Anyway, Maggie Brown was refreshingly upfront about how shit C4 was in the early days, how Michael Grade loved throwing money at big set-piece drama, and how Michael Jackson just threw money around full stop. Then it all ended very suddenly with no questions or discussion, and the audience dissolved as rapidly as it had materialised.

Not the most accomplished or definitive of histories, then, but at least someone's first generation off-air recordings of Good Morning Britain haven't entirely gone to waste.

06 November, 2007

For Pete's sake

The Radio Times has, as usual, failed to resist the urge to go overboard on Dr Who and has put next Friday's Children In Need vignette on its cover. Is a five-minute non-canonical* skit really the most important thing on television next week?

At least it begs the blog-friendly question: just what will be Pete's first words as he arrives in the TARDIS? Bookies - the kind that always get quoted in the press but are never conveniently named because they don't exist - are predicting one of the following:

1) "I don't believe it - Turlough?"
2) "You've had this place redecorated. Don't like it."
3) "Am I...late for something?"
4) "Why Kamelion, how nice to see you!"
5) "That's the trouble with regeneration: you never quite know what you're going to get."

Money is also being accepted on two possible alternatives:

a) Tennant: "An apple a day..." Davidson: "...keeps the Doctor away?"
b) Tennant: "Well blow me, it's Freddie Flintoff!"

*This is true. No Children In Need Dr Who pantomimes are part of the canon, because otherwise the Raston Warriot Robot would still be stalking the galaxy and Colin Baker would be due to land in Albert Square in a decade or so's time. Oh, and according to the Five Doctors, Peter Davidson would still be Lord High Chief Prime Minister of Gallifrey or something.

04 November, 2007

Four score: slight return

It's the last blog entry on Channel 4's birthday*.

By way of a follow-up to that 1992 list of the station's supposed 50 most significant programmes, here's what might pass for a similiar inventory today. First up, those worth keeping from Broadcast's original rundown, and a word or two of justification:

After Dark (What closedown?)
Alter Image (your archetypal Isaacs-era impenetrable nonsense)
As It Happens (Paddy Haycocks, a microphone, and the city of London)
The Bandung File (textbook mid-80s multiculturalism)
Brookside (up to 1994, that is)
Chateauvallon ("Everyone's here. Even the Regional Prefect!")
Countdown ("It says here, 'Man And Vorderman'")
Diverse Reports (aka Thatcher's Britain)
Drop The Dead Donkey ("Bloody bastard John bloody Major!")
GBH ("This body leaves in two minutes: be on it!")
The Last Resort ("Maybe if I sleep with you after the show?")
Manhattan Cable (for inventing YouTube, at the same time as Clive James)
Max Headroom ("on drums: the Pope")
The Media Show (bring it back now!)
The Nation's Health (worthiness personified)
Network 7 (for-the-hell-of-it personified)
One Summer (a one-off one-off)
Saturday Night Live ("Please welcome...The Style Council!")
Traffik (at last, a bit of money)
Treasure Hunt ("Erm, I think you might find *this* book will be of some use to you...")
The Tube (for putting an entire ITV regional building on telly)
A Very British Coup (for being better and more expensive than Traffik)
Whose Line Is It Anyway? ("I'd like you to read them in the style of...a man with only 20 seconds to live")

Which totals 23. To bring it up to 50, how about...

The Big Breakfast ("That was funnier than you'll ever know")
Big Brother (up to 2002)
The Channel 4 Daily (missed out by Broadcast, for some reason...)
A Dance To The Music Of Time (even more money than Traffik)
Derren Brown Plays Russian Roulette Live (proper 'storm over...' tabloid-bothering business)
Desmond's (textbook mid-90s multiculturalism)
Don't Forget Your Toothbrush (well, William G. Stewart has to get a mention somewhere)
The Double Life Of Jonathan King (Jon Ronson's finest hour)
Father Ted (C4's last great sitcom)
Four Goes To Glyndebourne/Glastonbury (double-bill from 1993)
The Government Inspector (best drama for ages)
Grand Designs (kept C4 in pocket for ages)
Hearts And Minds (Dr Who and Jimmy McGovern: together at last)
Hollyoaks (up to 2001, that is)
Monarchy with David Starkey (grown-up telly)
The 1900 House (grown-up reality telly)
Right To Reply (again - why wasn't this in Broadcast's list?)
Richard And Judy (proper C4 'stars')
So Graham Norton (ditto)
Teachers (paved the way for all 3,598,219 episodes of Shameless)
That Peter Kay Thing (paved the way for all 3,598,219 repeats of Phoenix Nights)
Time Team (as recommended by Andrew Collins)
Top Ten (as patronised by Andrew Collins)
Watercolour Challenge (Hannah Gordon + daytime telly = genius)
Wise Up (for slagging off Rick Adams, at the very least)
The Word ("Come on Terry, keep it together!"
You Are What You Eat (epitome of C4's mother-knows-best TV)

*Until the next one.

01 November, 2007

Photo clippage #28

"You say it's your birthday?"




30 October, 2007

"...in your pocket, or purse, or in your bank..."

You might have already spotted this, but on Sunday 18th November BBC Parliament is doing another of its as-it-happened themed anniversary evenings, this time remembering the devaluation of the pound on the same day (at 9.30pm precisely!) 40 years ago.

Feature-length archivery is promised from the likes of Twenty-Four Hours, The Money Programme with William Davis and Alan Watson, an Our Money special - whatever that was - with Robin Day, and highlights from Budget 68, with future DG Ian Trethowan "and team" examining Roy Jenkins' attempt to save the British economy by taking £923 million out of it.

Best of all, though, is the fact the whole evening is being introduced and linked by the Beeb's star face of current affairs and every single massive television event of the mid-late 1960s...Cliff Michelmore! Back on the box! It must be his first foray onto the small screen for nearly two decades.

Has there ever been a more becalming TV face than Cliff? If anyone can reassure the nation that everything's going to be all right, let alone stop housewives, navvies and costermongers from fretting about "prices", it was - and still is - surely he.

28 October, 2007

The Macca video jukebox: epilogue

By way of a farewell to this never-before-attempted and rarely-read-since feature, Chris Hughes has unearthed Paul holding forth on Aspel And Company in 1984 about metric conversion ("I'm not going decimal, me uncle Joe and me"), impersonating Michael Jackson, promoting a Buddy Holly painting competition, bantering with Tracey Ullman ("She plays this bird who cries all the time") and joining in with a mass serenade at the end. "I never knew you could sing, Michael!" "Neither did I!"

Part one...



...part two...



...and part three:

26 October, 2007

Four score

To continue the theme, back when Channel 4 turned 10 in 1992, Broadcast magazine drew up a list of what it believed to be the station's 50 most significant programmes to date.

They were the ones that supposedly "defined" the channel and most typified its achievements during that first decade.

Given C4 was supposedly at its most groundbreaking during its, ahem, formative years, it's doubtful even a half of this list would - or should - make it into a similar inventory to mark C4's 25th birthday. But anyway, here's the 50, together with a few pithy observations from Broadcast. Any takers for The Big Company? Or What If It's Raining? Or Centrepoint?

After Dark
Alter Image
As It Happens
Ask Dr Ruth
The Bandung File
Behaving Badly ("Dame Judi Dench plays a devoted wife ditched over the turbot for a bit of young stuff")
Berlin Alexanderplatz
The Big Company
Black On Black
Brookside ("Had to resort to sensationalism of late to cling on to its dwindling audience")
The Camomile Lawn
Centrepoint
Chateauvallon
Club X
Countdown
Diverse Reports
Don't Miss Wax
Drop The Dead Donkey
Eurocops
The Far Pavilions
Fifteen-To-One
GBH
The Last Resort
The Manageress
Manhattan Cable
Mapp And Lucia
Max Headroom
The Media Show
The Nation's Health
Network 7
One Summer
Out On Tuesday
Pallas
Porterhouse Blue
The Price ("Peter Barkworth played the businessman whose greed cost his wife a finger, if not an arm and a leg")
Rear Window
Saturday Night Live
Tandoori Nights
Traffik
Treasure Hunt
The Tube
A TV Dante ("TV designed to be watched over and over again. If only you could be bothered")
A Very British Coup
Watching The Detectives
Watch The Woman ("Cosmo for couch potatoes with Tina Baker")
What If It's Raining?
Whose Line Is It Anyway?
The Wine Programme
Zastrozzi, A Romance ("Shelley's unreadable novel transmogrified into unwatchable TV")

24 October, 2007

Dropping a word in the nation's ear

The Today programme is 50 years old on Sunday, and to celebrate their website has rightly gone to town. Of particular note amongst the variety of clippage is the time Jack de Manio was late for an interview because he got locked in the toilet, and John Humphrys skewering a hapless Norman Lamont the day after Black Wednesday.

Best of all, however, is something half-heartedly referred to on the site only as 'The Today Song' but which, on listening, appears to be a musical skit written and performed by none other...than Richard Stilgoe!

Meanwhile here's Jack de Manio and John Timpson back when the Today studio was seemingly furnished with curtains, baize tables and sofas.

22 October, 2007

Gray matter




















Hello! I'm Muriel Gray. You might remember me from such Channel 4 hit shows as Switch, The Media Show and The 100 Greatest Family Films.

Well now. I really can't believe my old stamping ground and home from home is about to turn 25 years of age. So many memories! I'll never forget the time I was presenting The Tube when I opened my dressing room door to find my dear friends Paula and Jools introducing the programme right outside! Whoops! I uttered a mild profanity - live on air! - then had to run outside, round the back of the Tyne Tees building, to reach the place I was supposed to be! I've been laughing about that incident non-stop for almost 20 years. Lordy lordy.

Anyway, I'm here to remind everyone to take part in the special TV Cream Channel 4 anniversary poll, which is being held to determine once and for all when were C4's greatest years. You'll need to be signed up to Yahoo, but then if you're subscribed to Creamguide that will nae be a problem.

Oooh! I can barely contain myself at thinking what the result might be! As Scotland's first lady, I must try and keep my composure - but as soon as I hear the theme tune to Right To Reply, I'm off! Mercy me. Anyway, happy voting, and here's to Channel 4: let's hope it continues to grow old *dis*gracefully!!!

20 October, 2007

Photo clippage: C4 birthday special

"And for the most of the country, it all starts on the 2nd of November: all right?"


1) The launch of the Channel 4 Daily, 1989. Michael Nicholson, Carol Barnes, Garry Rice, Debbie Greenwood, Dermot Murnaghan, Susannah Simons and Richard Whiteley get used to not having enough chairs, saucers and audience to go round.

















2) The boss, 1994. Mike celebrates the opening of C4's new Horseferry Road office with a leftover Channel 4 Daily teacup.
























3) Dark times, 1996. Rick Adams arrives to "save" The Big Breakfast.
























4) Blustery times, 2001. Finnegan and Madeley indulge in an old-fashioned over-sized ident-wielding photo opportunity.
























5) Jeremy Isaacs looking pissed off, 1982-87.
























6) An ideas session for Channel 4 News, 1990.
















7) The Queen passes death sentence on Jimmy Corkhill (sadly later commuted), 1995.


















8) The boss, 1992. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

19 October, 2007

Alan Coren RIP

Here's the great man securing royal patronage for the drawing of big heads on little bodies.


16 October, 2007

The Pebble Mill Dash

Steve Williams pointed out below that the edition of Pebble Mill At One shown on the same day as the raising of the Mary Rose was a special 10th birthday programme, opening with the spectacularly-named Pebble Mill Dash: "a rally in which competitors make their way to the studio in unusual ways."

Further investigation seems to imply this fantastic idea, one that had been staged before, was limited to various visiting professional sportspeople and the like. This can't have been right. It should, naturally, have involved the presenters.

Each of them would have been shown at the top of the programme waiting at their respective start points, and cameras would then follow them in a multi-live link-up as they attempted to be the first to complete the Dash.

But what, pray, of the "unusual ways" in which they would undertake such a journey? Of those listed as being present on the day of transmission, the modes of transport would surely have been assigned accordingly:

Marian Foster - something decorous and prone to breaking down; a mini-moke, perhaps, or a pink-coloured scooter with helium balloons on the back.
Bob Langley - something preposterous and bombastic; a giant penny-farthing, or a customised lawn-mower.
Donny Macleod - something to do with the military; ideally, a Sherman tank.
Tom Coyne - something boring; a go-cart he'd made himself, or a jet-propelled hoverbuggy he'd built with help from a team of avuncular factory workers at Longbridge.
Patrick Moore - a giant see-through polythene bubble, like the one James Bond uses to walk across the sea in Diamonds Are Forever.
Frank Delaney - a mobile library.
Leslie Phillips - a hospital bed, pushed by entrants from the 1982 Miss Midlands Today contest.
Fenella Fielding - a mobile sofa on castors, like the kind that roll down roads in Last Of The Summer Wine.
Marjorie Lofthouse - a sedan chair carried by Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen.

15 October, 2007

"Storms have battered...those parts...of Britain..."

Here's a concertinad account of events 20 years ago this very night and the following morning, including Nicholas Witchell pontificating shiftily on "what the prognosis for the rest of the day is", part of BBC Breakfast Time hailing from what looks like the corner of a canteen with Sally Magnusson, Jeremy Paxman and someone else slumped on cheap chairs behind a glass coffee table, and Michael Buerk giving Ian McCaskill what for.

13 October, 2007

No, it won't be soon enough...

Hooray!

This has been too too long coming, and demands to be at the top of any right-thinking person's Christmas list.

The blurb implies it'll be all the great man's music vidoes, a few live performances (including stuff from the fantastic 1991 MTV Unplugged session, Live Aid, and the 2004 Glastonbury set - "Now I wanna hear the men, just the men, c'mon fellas!"), some interviews with the likes of Parky and Melvyn, some alternate edits, unseen footage and all the usual whistles and bells.

This bit's especially intriguing: "The films can be viewed either in chronological order or as play-lists that have been personally arranged by Paul featuring his exclusive voiceover commentaries."

Just what form are these playlists, sorry play-lists, going to take? Dancefloor favourites? (such as Take It Away and Goodnight Tonight) Love songs? (the likes of No More Lonely Nights and Waterfalls) Wit and whimsy? (C Moon, Coming Up) Anthemic? (Tug Of War, Pipes Of Peace) Even, whisper it, Alternative? (Give Ireland Back To The Irish)

What with one thing and another, it kind of implies to an end to this blog's Macca Video Jukebox.

Although if the DVD fails to include Russell Harty serving tea to Paul and George Martin, maybe not.

11 October, 2007

Babcock Power Construction Division

It's apocryphal nowadays to assume the whole country was watching TV 25 years ago this very day, entranced as the titanic yellow pincers of Babcock Power Construction almost succeeded in failing to retrieve the Mary Rose from the bottom of the Solent.

Surely, though, the nation can't have remained transfixed from breakfast all the way through to mid-afternoon, which, according to retrospective accounts, was as long as it actually took? Having the TV trolley permanently set up in your primary school library was one thing. Skiving off work to spend several hours in the company of Margaret Rule was quite another.

Memory suggests the whole thing was done and dusted before morning break. Reality seems to imply something quite different. And worse: according to the Today programme, they don't even have to keep spraying the wreckage with that special sealant anymore. Another myth busted.

Can it really be that all of the retrospective nostalgic clutter which got washed up along with all those shards of Tudor nauticalism a quarter of a century ago is now, in fact, redundant? In the words of Prince Charles, "I was slightly horrified but I thought the best thing to do was to be British and not panic."

10 October, 2007

The Macca video jukebox: part ten

SONG:
PIPES OF PEACE

DEFINITION:
Paul reconciles two world powers over Christmas dinner

THINGS TO KNOW:
a) It's Macca's one and only solo number one single. No More Lonely Nights might have followed it to the top, had it not been for Chaka Khan and Jim Diamond. Sequentially (sadly).
b) A 25th anniversary version of the song, entitled 'Pipes Of Peace (Bring Our Boys Back Home, Gordon)', scheduled for release next year with guest backing vocals from Annie Lennox, Chris Martin and one of the ex-Sugababes, has since been dismissed as a rumour.

THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR:
a) Paul's best acting performance in a video. Understated, subtle, even touching - and he's playing two people to boot!
b) Some Sgt Pepper-esque electronic noodling at the beginning.
c) The fact, once again, that Macca looks younger here than he did during the entire 1970s.
d) The explosions.
e) Paul goes to sleep at the end.

VERDICT: It's all we long to hear



BONUS FEATURE
The making of Pipes Of Peace!

THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR:

a) A very famous person turning up with the tea, 30 seconds in.
b) Paul's description of the very famous person.
c) The bit where it sounds like they're doing a 12" mix. Why wasn't this released?!
d) Paul describing what a tabla is, and doing an unfortunately stereotyped Indian-wobbly-head impression.
e) The somewhat esoteric question "It's the first time I've been really close to you..." as the clip frustratingly fades out.

08 October, 2007

Poll axed

David Dimbleby is presumably feeling more gutted than most at the moment, seeing as how the election's been cancelled and his chance at playing results night anchor for the eighth successive time has been postponed. Perhaps indefinitely.

For will Dave really be in the running come 2009 or 2010? If Gordon Brown had gone to the country this month there'd have been no question Dimbleby would have been marshalling the small screen count. He's still in command of Question Time - just - and he's on a break from driving his giant jeep round yet another batch of fells. Nobody else would have got a look in behind his giant election desk.

Fast forward two or three years, though, and chances are some pugnacious junior controller or panicking top floor suit will want to see "a fresh new look" to the BBC's election coverage. They might even bypass Dave's obvious successor, Huw Edwards, for somebody of even younger hue. Nicky Campbell? Adrian Chiles?

Though that might not sound like an unreasonable idea, it'd be a shame if Huw didn't get a shot at the big one. And while David will want to cling on in the hope he gets to celebrate his 30th anniversary in 2009, you can't help wondering if, thanks to Gordon, he's seen his last post-hustings dawn.

06 October, 2007

Photo clippage #27

February 1978: the new face of the Radio 1 breakfast show poses with The Broadcasting House Alarm Clock.


04 October, 2007

"Ready when you are, Ronnie!"

Ten reasons to remember Ronnie Hazlehurst:

1) The multi-part mini-symphony that was his music for The Two Ronnies, from the glorious "bah! bah!" fanfare underneath the shimmering spectacles of the opening, to the scores for all those shot-on-film spoof sagas, to the pomp and circumstance of the closing credits.

2) The biiiiaaaooowww sound in the theme tune to Sorry.

3) His sterling work representing Britain in the Eurovision Song Contest, usually leading his orchestra dressed in regulation bow-tie and bowler hat, conducting with a crisply rolled umbrella.

4) The way he incorporated the bongs, sorry, the chimes and strikes of Big Ben into the theme for Yes, Minister, and then matching them perfectly with the earnest scraping of a wah-wah guitar.

5) Managing to make the music to Last Of The Summer Wine sound genuinely wistful.

6) Mustering a towering something out of the whimsical nothing that were the words "Blankety Blank", in the process transforming them into a national chant.

7) "Ready when you are, Ronnie!" Turning up every week to supply the (live) incidental music to the original Generation Game, all the while keeping his wits about him in readiness for a spontaneous Brucie shimmy or a spectacular miscue from Lal.

8) The everything *and* the kitchen sink soundscape that was the theme to Are You Being Served?

9) Insisting the opening music to Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em was actually the name of the programme in Morse Code, which might not have been strictly true, but at least added a dash of substance to an otherwise hollow noisy knockabout.

10) Managing to write a theme to accompany opening titles showing a man trying to drown himself at sea.

02 October, 2007

Ned Sherrin RIP

Patricia Hodge, Elaine Paige, Stephanie Cole and Dennis Waterman enjoy a last glass of Medium Dry Sherrin.

01 October, 2007

"He's doing some deal up in Baltimore now..."

Inexpicably lost down between the sofa cushions of the latest TV Cream Update, here's Chris Hughes with...

OUR TWENTY BEST TUNES
Radio 2's Greatest Hits

To complete our celebration of Radio 2's 40th anniversary, TVC looks back over the network's imperial phase (roughly 1974 to 1985) and selects 20 songs that, for better or worse, sum up the station that is Radio 2:

1) CHRISTOPHER CROSS - ARTHUR'S THEME (THE BEST THAT YOU CAN DO)
The lush, ivory-tinkling accompaniment to Dudley Moore wearing a top hat in a bath ("Arthur he does as he pleases"), performed by the man booked to provide the entertainment at Newman's millennium party in Seinfeld. "Think again, longshanks! I started planning this in 1978!"

2) ELAINE PAIGE & BARBARA DICKSON - I KNOW HIM SO WELL
The first ladies of "Theatreland" had to be in here, striding unnecessarily slowly in opposite directions in front of a giant chessboard. The "magic" of messrs Rice, Ulvaeus and Andersson took them to number one in 1985, and their magisterial power duet can still occasionally be heard being belted out on TV Cream office outings.

3) MANHATTAN TRANSFER - CHANSON D'AMOUR
"Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat!" The dinner-dance jazz of "Man Tran" was the height of sophistication in 1977, spending three weeks at number one, although the definitive interpretation surely remains the one by the staff of Grace Brothers on a fictional regional news programme presented by Nick Ross.

4) GLEN CAMPBELL - RHINESTONE COWBOY
"Like a rhinestone cowboy, dah dah! Ridin' frfrf like a frfrf on a star-spangled horse in a rodeo!" We're not sure if Wally Whyton ever played it, but this peerless pop-country hit definitely became a Radio 2 staple, the notion of getting cards and letters from people you don't even know doubtless appealing to David Hamilton and company.

5) MARTI WEBB - TAKE THAT LOOK OFF YOUR FACE
"He's doing some deal up in Baltimore now!" Andrew Lloyd-Webber's finest moment, car stickers, corduroy pants and all, from the musical Tell Me On A Sunday. The soundtrack album is probably still lodged at the back of your mum and dad's record collection.

6) KENNY ROGERS - LUCILLE
The bearded balladeer ("The man makes a strong bird!") and his heart-rending tale of those "four hungry children and a crop in the field" got to number one in 1977, no doubt aided by the fact Terry Wogan seemed to play it on the breakfast show every day for six months.

7) BARBARA DICKSON - JANUARY FEBRUARY
"Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Barbara Dickson!" The second appearance by the glamorous auntie of pop in our chart, this breakfast-table singalong (produced by the great Alan Tarney) reached number 11 in 1980. The perfect interlude between The Worm That Turned and Ronnie C going on about "the Producer" again.

8) FAT LARRY'S BAND - ZOOM
Fat Larry being a good friend of Fat Harry White ("Nowt down for you today, our kid"), lest we forget, and leader of the eponymous "Band", whose one and only success was this burst of traffic-jam soul in 1982. "Zoom, you chase the day away! Hi-i-i-i-igh noon, the moon and stars came out to play!"

9) ENNIO MORRICONE - CHI MAI
The "haunting" instrumental theme tune from The Life and Times of David Lloyd George, of course, encased in that beguiling yellow 'BBC Records & Tapes' sleeve. For some reason, the B-side was the theme from dull BBC2 teatime chess series The Master Game.

10) CLIFF RICHARD - CARRIE
Sir Clifford was enjoying a bit of a renaissance around this time, turning up on Kenny Everett and in Look-In every week, but he never topped this downbeat saga of his quest for "another missing person" who was "just another number on a payphone wall". Written by BA Robertson, fact fans.

11) FIDDLER'S DRAM - DAY TRIP TO BANGOR
It was Terry Wogan who championed this novelty folk-rock yarn about a works outing to a Welsh seaside resort by an accordion-squeezing ensemble best described as the thinking man's Wurzels. Such were Tel's powers that their rollicking tale of a "luvverly time" on "the big ferris wheel" briefly threatened to become the Christmas number one.

12) ABBA - I DO, I DO, I DO, I DO, I DO
Not one of their imperial hits (number 38, according to Gambo) but this shipment of superlative Scandipop gets into our chart ahead of Dancing Queen and the rest, thanks to repeated plays on early-morning Radio 2 while Creamup was eating its Weetabix and getting ready for school.

13) CRYSTAL GAYLE - DON'T IT MAKE MY BROWN EYES BLUE
Discovered by Val Doonican, no less, country & western songstress Crystal Gayle proceeded to colonise the Radio 2 playlist for much of the late 1970s, but this number 5 hit from 1977 was the one that would have got Terry tapping a sturdy brogue on a winter's morn.

14) STEPHANIE DE SYKES - BORN WITH A SMILE ON MY FACE
The result of an improbable Crossroads storyline about the construction of a recording studio underneath reception, this hit by motel guest 'Holly Brown', aka the future Mrs Angus Deayton, counselled Radio 2 listeners to "forget the politicians, nuclear fission" on a regular basis for much of 1974.

15) RUPERT HOLMES - ESCAPE (THE PINA COLADA SONG)
The one about the bloke who gets bored of his wife so replies to a personal ad ("If you like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain") in the paper, only to discover (if you don't want to know the result, look away now) that it was his "lovely lady" who'd placed it in the first place. Creamup has a definite soft spot for the follow-up, Him.

16) HERB ALPERT AND THE TIJUANA BRASS - SPANISH FLEA
"There was a little Spanish flea, a record star he thought he'd be!"It had originally been a hit in 1965, predating the station by two years, but this nippy instrumental was a Radio 2 standby for much of the 1970s, effortlessly filling any spare time between the JY prog and Waggoner's Walk. "The Chipmunks he'd seen on TV, why not a little Spanish flea?"

17) SAILOR - GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS
Imagine a group that sounded like a cross between Roxy Music and The Cliff Adams Singers and looked like a Richard O'Sullivan lookalikes convention and you've got Sailor, who celebrated the female form from "shy girls, sexy girls" to "Miss World and beauty queens" via the medium of close harmonies.

18) CARLY SIMON - NOBODY DOES IT BETTER
"Glang! Glang-a-lang-a-lang-a-lang-a-lang-a-lang!" Most sublime Bond theme of the lot, we reckon, from The Spy Who Loved Me, the best bit being that classy throwaway reference to the film's title just before the chorus. "He starts skiing and he's being chased by these Russian shits in black jumpsuits with lemon piping."

19) CHARLENE - I'VE NEVER BEEN TO ME
It sounded like the plot to a lavish Stefanie Powers mini-series set to music ("I've been to Nice and the isle of Greece/when I sipped champagne on a yacht") and somehow spent one week at number one in 1982 on the back of those racy lyrics about that "subtle whoring that cost too much to be free".

20) THE CARPENTERS - JAMBALAYA
From 1974, perfect back-of-the-car singalong fodder from the duo that encapsulated imperial phase Radio 2 better than anyone else. Now, why can't Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand play more records like this, eh?

29 September, 2007

4 what it's worth

40 reasons to cherish the 40-year-old Radio 4:

1) That bit on Today just before the 8.30am news when they have a joke with whoever's presenting the programme on at 9am.
2) Round Britain Quiz, specifically the music-themed questions
3) Nicholas Parsons shouting "Welcome to Just A Minute!"
4) Kirsty Young
5) "North Utsire, South Utsire..."
6) They have a continuity announcer called Zeb
7) The bit at midnight when the newsreader has to try and speak between the Big Ben "chimes and strikes"
8) "Over on Long Wave, it's time for..."
9) Jim Naughtie
10) The special accordion version of The Archers theme used for the omnibus edition
11) Humphrey Lyttelton's innuendos
12) It's the only place you get to hear Richard Stilgoe anymore
13) Ditto Clive James
14) The theme tune to File On 4
15) Jenni Murray, the best mum you could ever have
16) The Archive Hour
17) "...and that's the world at 1.30"
18) Whenever a station controller has to turn up on Feedback and explain a scheduling change to an angry listener
19) Today In Parliament, especially the what-kind-of-week-has-it-been? Friday editions
20) The way the guests on The Moral Maze are called "witnesses"
21) Masterteam with Peter Snow
22) John Humphrys in a tenacious mood
23) Hearing someone in the audience shout "for shame!" during the live transmission of Any Questions
24) The "sideways look at..." feature in the last 15 minutes of The Westminster Hour
25) Getting to eat your lunch while listening to Martha Kearney
26) "Coming up, the Greenwich time signal..."
27) Documentaries presented by Charles Wheeler
28) The fact Woman's Hour has to come from Manchester once a week
29) Sean Barratt reciting poems on Poetry Please late at night
30) Andrew Marr verbally jousting with four guests at the same time on Start The Week
31) Edward Stourton getting indignant with slippery foreign ambassadors at 7.20am
32) Waking up too early on Sunday mornings and hearing five minutes of church bells
33) Any programme based on a parlour game
34) Annie McKie reading the news
35) You can still get it on Medium Wave in London and Northern Ireland
36) The fact that, in the event of war, British submarines have been ordered to interpret the repeated absence of the Today programme from Radio 4's frequencies as proof Britain has been the subject of a nuclear attack
37) Whenever The Archers drops in a specially-recorded last-minute scene to incorporate some topical news story or other
38) Eddie Mair
39) 'Sailing By'
40) "So, from everybody here at Broadcasting House, it's a very good night."

28 September, 2007

Photo clippage: Radio 2 40th birthday special

This weekend's multiple anniversary commemorations have already got off to a sparkling start with an edition of Friday Night Is Music Night featuring a medley of Radio 2 "themes", a singalong version of 'MacArthur Park' and Joe Brown cracking jokes about Ken Bruce.

Unfortunately there was no evidence of a mooted (at least by TV Cream) appearance by the Radio 2 Players; indeed, there doesn't look like being any collective tribute, not even a special pantomime, during the whole celebrations.

By way of scant compensation, then, here are some of Radio 2's erstwhile constituent parts.

1) A phalanx of DJs and significant others marches on 10 Downing Street to demand an end to the pervasive corrupting influence of Waggoner's Walk:






















2) Gloria Hunniford swaps the verdant pastures of Broadcasting House for a stint on Open Air fielding endless complaints about Peter Sissons's pay packet and enquiries about the music played during Ceefax AM:

















3) Brian Matthew dresses down for dinner:























4) Jimmy Young is joined in the studio by a known bender:

















5) Just another average lunchtime in the BBC club:
















6) Ed Stewart in a rare shot reaching for his wallet:























7) John Dunn is informed he no longer has to share a locker with Steve Wright:






27 September, 2007

Phil Din

Phil Redmond was on BBC News 24 earlier, droning on about his plans to "save" Liverpool's Capital of Culture celebrations. Unsurprisingly, the moment his grey, squashed face appeared on camera, Redmond sucked all life out of proceedings, leaving his interviewer battling to salvage even a dash of audible usefulness from the encounter.

The gist of his intentions, however, seemed to be:

- a touring revival of Brookside, utilising a flatbed truck to visit some of Merseyside's most deprived areas in an attempt to use cultural enlightenment to help those needing new drains and central heating. Starring Dean Sullivan.

- an open mike session staged in Liverpool's "heart" (Brookside Close), compered by Dean Sullivan, giving locals the chance to sound off to nobody in particular about petty grievances and smug prejudices.

- a new musical, 'Why Liverpool Is Da Boss', penned by Phil Redmond, re-telling some of the city's so-called "finest moments"in story and song, featuring Dean Sullivan, Louis Emerick and Claire Sweeney.

- 'How Brookside Saved Britain': a series of seminars chaired by Phil Redmond, in front of an invited audience (no questions allowed), with special guest speaker Dean Sullivan.

- 'Why Grange Hill Was Set In Liverpool All Along': a journey round various local landmarks, as seen in recent series of the increasingly unpopular children's series, designed to prove that the nation's once-favourite comprehensive was never set in north London at all. Tour guide: Dean Sullivan.

- 'Capital Culture-l Elites (sic)' A keynote address by Phil Redmond, arguing that the Houses of Parliament, the Olympics, the British Library, HMS Belfast, the London Marathon, the Tour de France, the Melbourne Cup and the annual 10km Brazil fun run should all be held in Liverpool. Includes a specially filmed testimony by Dean Sullivan entitled 'Hey Jimmy'.

25 September, 2007

See for yourself

Paul Kennedy has written to TV Cream to ask:

"Can you tell me if the tea-boy from a long lost lower Amazonian rain forest tribe who has had access to a television for half a peko second has started rating the programmes on your site? I refer you to the rating for Fawlty Towers. One of the all time classics. Sack the tea-boy."

It's a fair point: who is responsible for determining the programme rating for each of the A-Z billings, and how precisely is it arrived at?

Suffice to say the process is a long and, conveniently for this blog, legible one. Initially a team of one hundred developers working in a boxroom in Shanghai calculate, on the basis of innumerable statistical formulae, what are the range of ratings available. This can take anything from one day to, if there's a fair wind and Carla Lane is involved, half a minute.

The information is posted back to TV Cream Towers and verified by the recently-formed governmental Central Committee For Un-Archivery Activites, which cross-examines all the analysis for signs of fakery, ambiguity, imagination, creativity, innovation, identity and blarney.

The entire staff of TV Cream then spend a weekend watching every single episode of the programme in question, like those people at Dr Who Magazine who have spent the past fifteen years watching every episode of the titular children's science fiction series in order. Voices are raised and opinions are aired, particularly when it comes to deciding what should be put on the TV instead, something that happens roughly fifteen minutes in.

A focus group is employed to measure the likely response to a number of options. Lots and lots of pie charts and graphs which have a line that goes up and down for no reason are produced. Somebody moots the idea of scrapping the entire A-Z. A tea boy from a lost Amazonian rain forest tribe stops by to say there's no milk left in the fridge.

Finally the entire thing is put to a secret ballot and the results painted onto a giant piece of plywood by Bob MacKenzie.

Or at least that's what is supposed to happen.

22 September, 2007

Run VT

As fantastic as tonight's rank-the-prime-ministers two-hour BBC4 marathon was, it did fall back one too many times on obvious archivery. How many occasions has that same footage of an over-daubed half-dressed woman dancing alone in a muddy field been rolled out to denote the Swinging Sixties?

Anyway, here's a rundown of other all-too ubiquitous clippage for future documentarians to avoid. How many can you collect over the next seven days?

End of the Second World War: Winston Churchill in an open-topped car waving his hat around
Late 1950s: Woman taking delivery of a washing machine
Early 1960s: Girl screaming at The Beatles and holding her hands against her face
Late 1960s: George Best pouring champagne onto a pyramid of glasses
Permissiveness: Mary Whitehouse standing up in an audience of old people complaining about "the dirtiest programme" she's ever seen
The three-day week: Old women in a supermarket with lighted candles tied to their trolleys
The Falklands War: men marching across a field with a Union Jack tied to a radio mast
The miners strike: Arthur Scargill being arrested
The 1980s boom: A businessman talking into a brick-sized mobile phone
Mrs Thatcher in control: Maggie re-arranging tiny flags at a press conference
Mrs Thatcher not in control: Maggie being pulled along the beach by a small dog
Black Wednesday: A businessman running across an office looking crazy
John Major: PM sipping a pint of beer in a tiny near-empty village pub
Tony Blair: PM heading a ball with Kevin Keegan
Princess Diana: Martyn Lewis blubbing

20 September, 2007

Photo clippage #26

ITV faces go on a motoring excursion to meet their public. Why doesn't this sort of thing happen anymore?*

















*Because there aren't any ITV faces anymore.

18 September, 2007

"You gonna doublet? I doan believe ya!"

In a week or so's time, BBC Parliament is going to be repeating Election '87.

Fair enough, it's 20 years (and a bit) since Mrs Thatcher told Robin Day she could well be "twanging a harp" by the year 2000, prompting David Dimbleby to remark on how at least she was "absolutely convinced she's going to heaven one day". But the channel has shown Election '87 before (in 2005) and there are surely other epic transmissions from the archive that could be marched out to fill its schedules before Westminster opens for business.

Thatcher's resignation, for instance. The launch of Operation Desert Shield (or, if that's not exciting enough, Operation Desert Storm). If the 1981 Royal Wedding is still deemed out of bounds ("Throw a handful of good wishes after them") how about the Royal Fireworks from the night before ("The Queen and twenty craned heads from other lands...bonfire built by Boy Skates...") or even the 1973 Royal Wedding ("You're gonna doublet? I doan believe ya!").

Maybe there could be a By-Election Bonanza, with an entire weekend devoted to some of history's most famous one-off counts, linked with special commentary from David Butler (he's still alive, y'know). There's even one whole general election yet to be aired: Election '59, which, with Richard Dimbleby at the helm, was surely a majestically gregarious affair.

Basically there are loads of gems waiting for re-airing, which makes the second coming again of Election '87 rather underwhelming. Alternatively, and to shut up all those whinging about "BBC cuts", why not replace BBC3 with BBC+30: a real-time re-run of exactly what was appearing on BBC1 30 years ago to the day. It'd get the Daily Mail's hackles up, but also the viewing figures. A win-win situation!

16 September, 2007

TV Cream: new season

As you'll hopefully have spotted on the site's homepage, the TV Cream A-Z has had a complete overhaul.

Basically, every single entry has been updated in some way, be it amended, corrected or totally rewritten. There is, as such, fresh new content - yikes! - to be found in every single one of TV Cream's 1,820 listed programmes.

But wait, as Peter Purves said on those mid-90s collect-a-CD adverts. There are also 100 brand new entries as well, filling in gaps in the A-Z that had long tested the patience of the site's, ooh, dozens of readers.

You can now find write-ups for the likes of AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, BRUSH STROKES, CHALLENGE ANNEKA, EVERY SECOND COUNTS, LAST OF THE SUMMER WINE, THE WONDER YEARS, WHICKER'S WORLD, YOU RANG M'LORD and, after all these years, ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES.

Discover the difference between RUSSELL HARTY and RUSSELL HARTY PLUS; between ABRICADIGANCE, A DROP OF DIGANCE and DIGANCE AT WORK; and THE ZOO GANG and ZOO TIME. Relive Paddy Haycocks's finest hour in AS IT HAPPENS and Joe Pasquale and Bradley Walsh's worst in, er, HE'S PASQUALE, I'M WALSH. Reminisce about the days when you could have both your RIGHT TO REPLY and SEE FOR YOURSELF.

Wonder why it's taken us so long to do an entry for BLACKADDER. Wonder why we bothered to do an entry for BLACKEYES. Rattle some virtual collecting tins for both CHILDREN IN NEED and COMIC RELIEF. Explore the history of cummerbunds with EDWARD THE SEVENTH, ELIZABETH R, LILLIE and THE CHARMER. Explore the history of, well, history with THE ASCENT OF MAN and CIVILISATION.

There's more shameless Monkhouse worship in CELEBRITY SQUARES and FAMILY FORTUNES. There's the children's programme with the scariest opening titles ever, ONCE UPON A TIME...MAN. And, SURPRISE SURPRISE, there's not one but two enormous boons: A BIT OF FRY AND LAURIE and A BIT OF A DO.

So allow yourself a modest shout of PRAISE BE and a soupcon of FOOD AND DRINK, and delve into the new model TV Cream A-Z. Don't forget to PRESS GANG your mates and fellow TELLY ADDICTS to do the same.

Oh, and if anyone's got any decent images lying around that could replace some of the site's near-decade-old fuzzy low-resolution jpegs and screengrabs, we'd be more than happy to receive them.

13 September, 2007

Him again

The new edition of Radio Times features Ol' Miserable Bastard, aka Michael Parkinson, whinging on yet again about how the world will be a bleaker place once he disappears off the air for good* and how he's supposedly one a million because "the one skill I'm most proud of is that I can write", something he shares with much of the entire world over the age of five.

There's also an accompanying feature listing, revelation-style, who the old hobbledehoy would invite to his fantasy dinner party, including Dame Edith Evans, Shirley MacLaine, Billy Connolly (yawn), Ian McKellen and Judi Dench.

This roll call would be forgettable in the extreme were it not for the fact that, in an issue of TV Times from 1989, there's a similarly hold-the-front-page feature, ostensibly the first in a series, asking "top name celebrities" to discuss who they'd invite to, yup, their ideal imaginary dinner party.

And inevitably the first to step up to participate in such an earnestly whimsical exercise, despite him having absolutely no programmes on ITV that week, was him again: the master of the post-prandial prattle, Michael Parkinson.

No points for guessing who his first nomination was ("The only problem would be finding time to stop laughing and eat the food"), nor his second ("The greatest raconteur I have ever met - and I've met quite a few"). What's more striking, though, was the way Parky proceeded to flout the rules and choose seven people to attend the meal, when TV Times had clearly insisted he could only choose five. You might have had some courtesy, man, the feature had only just been launched!

At least his enervating babble was amusingly undermined by an accompanying line drawing of the grouchy bugger, which was the most assuredly hopeless, i.e. splendid appropriate rendering of the man ever seen. Half of Parky's face was missing, though sadly not the bottom half, and rather than draw a big head on a little body the anonymous artist had done it the other way round. Better still, the entire thing had been reproduced on the front cover as well.

He'd probably quit TV altogether if such a thing had happened today. Oh, wait a minute...

*We've heard that before.