27 February, 2007

Sharing these good times

Whole books have been written about Radio Times graphics, but it's unlikely anything hailing from the last 12 months would find a place in their pages. Something seems to have really gone awry down at Brett Towers by way of cover art, reaching yet another all-time low with the issue out today.

The signs were there last summer when the call went out for a cover photo of two wrinkled old crones - Mick Jagger and Keith Richards selflessly standing in at the last minute for Gill Hudson and Alison Graham. Then there was that one featuring Dawn French and Tracey Ullman, as if the latter has meant anything to anyone in this country for the past 20 years.

2007, however, has already seen a stomach-curdling ensemble of Jayne Torvill, Christopher Dean and Sandi Toksvig, which was wrong not just because it was promoting an ITV show, nor because it was a tatty ITV show, but mainly because Sandi was doing a Macaulay Culkin face, something which even looked wrong on Macaulay Culkin.

Then came that TOP GEAR group shot: three petulant-looking middle-aged men, one of whom was pointing at another for no reason other than to distract attention from his bland face, one who appeared to be in the middle of chewing an Opal Fruit, and the third who looked like he'd not quite recovered from a near-tragic accident, which was ironic given he was Jeremy Clarkson. It also featured the first ever appearance of profanity on a Radio Times cover. Then again, after that edition last year which talked about masturbation, you couldn't call it unexpected.

This week's issue boasts a photo of David Tennant which has been knocking around for ages, to promote a half-arsed thing about TV's most wanted. And now the new issue has no fewer than four alternative covers, each showcasing Ben Fogle in hilariously-antiquated garb, to promote...a half-arsed thing about TV's most wanted.

The days of obscure line drawings, weird electronic etchings, studious portraiture and painstaking parodies are indeed long gone, but surely something in the way of eyecatching, original and imaginatively-designed covers wouldn't be out of place right now, when the magazine sorely needs to raise its game and become the best-selling TV listings weekly again. It'd certainly make it stand out from the rest and give it a bit of personality again. Besides, it'd afford Gill something different to write about in her column instead of how she lives her life. Anything to bring back those good times.

25 February, 2007

The Macca Video Jukebox: part two


Paul achieves his ultimate dream: performing in a band entirely made up of himself. Oh, and Linda.

a) This was Macca's first single of the 80s.
b) It was only kept off the number one spot by Blondie's dreary shoutathon, 'Call Me'.
c) It was, however, top of the charts in the United States.
d) Which was where John Lennon heard it, specifically inside a taxi cab, upon which he exclaimed "Fuck a pig - it's Paul!" and (for what it's worth, which isn't much) professed it to be one of the best solo songs his erstwhile cohort had ever done.
e) The amiable army of Pauls in the video was dubbed, by the man himself, The Plastic Macs.

a) The Maccalikes. How many can you spot? There's (at the very least) Buddy Holly, Ginger Baker, Frank Zappa, Ron Mael out of Sparks, and (best of all) Beatlemania Paul.
b) The fact even Linda looks like she's enjoying herself.
c) The bit where Paul points at the band just before he starts singing.
d) The bit where the Beatlemania Paul does a thumbs-up.
e) Macca's ace moves. They're all here: bopping, head jiggling, eye rolling, weird arm gestures, doing a peace sign, the works.

Toppermost of the poppermost


Here's Paul and co doing the song live in 1979. It's an absolutely storming version, topped off with some textbook Maccalese of the kind that would later bedeck his live gigs from start to finish. "C'mon, don't be shy, give your bums a quick rub, ooh yeah!"

22 February, 2007

Photo clippage #7

Tel and Jim in no way conforming to type.

21 February, 2007

What a munter

Among the scores of reasons why the 1980s was the best decade ever, its crop of strikingly exhilarating swearwords is rarely mentioned.

There are truly some fine expletives which, unlike other less palatable aspects of that decade (Steve Wright), have virtually passed out of existence. This is a shame, especially as today's profanities don't have half as much imagination or playfulness as those hailing from 20 or so years ago.

See if you can work one of the following into a conversation during the next 24 hours.

As in: "That Steve Wright, he's a right piss artist." If you prefer, an alternative is to substitute the adjective for a noun in order to deploy the sentiment by way of a condemnation of something not being quite up to standards, i.e. "I had to listen to that Steve Wright for an hour while I was stuck in traffic, which was a right pisser".

As in: "I see that dipshit Steve Wright is somehow responsible for the most popular programme on Radio 2."

A slightly less petulant example of 2), as in: "I reckon that Steve Wright is a bit of knobhead."

This has good comical as well as caustic potential. For example: "That Steve Wright! What a fucking bell-end!"

5) Not a word as such, or indeed at all, but a gesture. Namely, flicking the Vs at someone by dint of pretending to "scratch" your face or rub each of your eyes using two fingers simultaneously. As in the kind of gesture you'd have been minded to make when sitting in the audience for The Steve Wright People Show.

19 February, 2007

"Well, I don't know about you, but..."

It's precisely 50 years since the first edition of TONIGHT, the Beeb's topical teatime tryst helmed by the impeccable, unflappable, infinitely three-piece-suitable Cliff Michelmore.

Cliff, together with cohort Alan Whicker and anyone else who's still alive, is down at BBC Television Centre this very evening at a special celebratory dinner laid on by the D-G himself Mark Thompson. You can only hope Mark has his ears pinned back far enough to take on board whatever avuncular anecdotery Cliff sees fit to dispense over the melon balls and Hollandaise sauce. For much of what made Tonight not only hugely influential but compulsively watchable should, by rights, still be practiced on telly today. Not least on THE ONE SHOW, due back later this year.

Such ingredients can, at one remove, be boiled down to:

- a theme tune you can a) hum when you're walking down the street b) hear above the noise of doing the pots and c) acts as a cheerful clarion for anyone in the vicinity to get in front of the box tout suite

- a set that looks like your friend's dad's study

- opening patter that refers to some impossibly mundane subject of conversation and which allows the host to begin by musing, "Well, I don't know about you, but..."

- someone interviewing colourful local people with a story to tell in a dementedly far flung corner of the British Isles, preferably in inclement weather

- someone interviewing colourful local people with a bizarre object to show and tell on a patch of gravel just outside the studio, also preferably in inclement weather

- a co-presenter sitting to one side of the studio in a sort of booth/cubby hole, to which the main host can turn with a raise of the eyebrow and the words: "If ever there was one person to tell us why, from tomorrow, we'll officially all be one inch taller, it's..."

- a whimsical topical song, neatly distilling the salient points of an otherwise earnest news item into a jovial caper with funny rhymes and a crap punchline which allows the singer to look faintly uncomfortable and the host to roll their eyes in mock-despair

- a luminary figure (politician/captain of industry/media mogul) in the studio doing something out of character for 30 seconds or so (riding a unicycle, wearing 3-D glasses, tasting an unusual foreign dish) before grimacing and allowing the host to crack: "Don't give up the day job!"

- a long-running partwork wherein a famous friendly face flies the world/walks from one coast to the other/engages in a series of jobs that involve the phrase "back at the coal face"

- a Bernard Levin-esque brainbox who comes on regularly to pontificate wryly and articulately about something that's been bothering them

- viewers' capricious correspondence

- and last but definitely not least, someone who's appearing in something on telly later that very night, who comes into the studio to plug their show, chuckle and say, "I couldn't possibly tell you that!" when asked about what will happen to their character, and who then chats in an agreeably animated fashion with the host while the signature tune plays out.

17 February, 2007

Top of the Fops

There aren't that many cads on television anymore. By way of louche-sized salute to the finest blackguards ever to parade across the small screen, the Digi-Creamguide mailout has idled away the last few weeks amassing a roster of definitive telly rogues. Chief, and indeed sole, qualification was to have an ability to wear a hat at rakish angle while letting a smile play suggestively around your lips.

Here's the final list. Thanks to Nigel Fishwick, Steve Norgate, David Pascoe and TJ Worthington - Creamguide readers all - for suggestions. In no particular order:

1) The Charmer
aka Nigel Havers, aka any character played by Nigel Havers in anything he's ever done.

2) The Bounder
as above, substituting Peter Bowles for Nigel Havers.

3) Paul Ryman
Richard Briers' neighbour in EVER DECREASING CIRCLES. Expert at almost everything. Knew "a friend" who could fix/rustle up/smooth over everything else. Played to perfection by Peter Egan, who'd pretty much qualify as a cad incarnate were it not for his decidedly humbling househusband turn in JOINT ACCOUNT.

4) Major Giles Bradshaw
Resident cad in THREE UP, TWO DOWN, he tried to court Angela Thorne's Daphne, much to the chagrin of Michael Elphick's Sam. Defeated Sam in a game of poker in order to stop him stuffing a bear for his taxidermy hobby. Could well have asked Daphne to marry him, before being eventually exposed as a fraudster or bigamist, or possibly even both. Neil Stacy's performance was basically his DUTY FREE schtick but swapping the anti-German paranoia for ex-military contempt.

5) Henry Newhouse
Titular gentleman gallivanter of CASANOVA '73.

6) Hercules Grytype-Thynne

7) Baron Bartram
He was up against Mr Benn in a balloon race.

8) Far too many weekly guest characters in JEEVES AND WOOSTER
Hildebrand 'Tuppy' Glossop, Cyril 'Barmy' Fotheringay-Phipps, Alexander 'Oofy' Prosser, Augustus 'Gussie' Fink-Nottle...all had a proclivity for acts of flagrant foppishness, not to mention regenerating between series, usually into Martin Clunes.

9) The Master
Some clarification is needed here. The First Master (Jon P'twee era) was most definitely a cad, but not the Second Master (Peter Davidson onwards), who was something of a dopey twat. The Third Master, who looks like being Derek Jacobi, will definitely be a cad, unlike the Fourth Master, who The Sun thinks is going to be John Simm, and who will therefore be a wide boy with a big gob. Should get on fine with Mr Tennant, then.

10) Miles from THIS LIFE
Placed an advert in Time Out's Talking Hearts Service which included the line "Do you like dining by candlelight and taking every moment as it comes?" Case closed.

15 February, 2007

Photo clippage #6

Perhaps the greatest publicity photo ever. A dazzling array of stars, including a cardboard Des O'Connor and the dog from Never The Twain, gather to promote ITV's autumn schedule of 1983.

13 February, 2007

The Macca Video Jukebox: part one

Welcome to the first in an occasional series paying tribute to the promotional video versatility of James Paul McCartney.


A man meeting his people

a) It was the lead single off Macca's 1986 album 'Press To Play'.
b) Both it and the LP flopped.
c) The song was produced by Hugh "Phil Collins" Padgham.
d) It contains the inexplicable lyric "Oklahama was never like this".
e) It also contains a trademark "excited" count-in from the man himself.
f) There is a none-more-80s "breakdown" two thirds of the way through.

A veritable prize showroom catalogue of the man's finest tricks and techniques:
a) Some pointless pointing.
b) Harmless joshing with pensioners and foreigners.
c) "Walking against the wind" in a comical fashion.
d) A weird bit of business on the escalator c. 2:38.
e) The Macca Face.
f) Lots of mid-80s pot pourri, including those old London Underground maps which lit up when, ahem, pressed.


10 February, 2007

Cue Garry

Seasoned listeners to the Today programme will be familiar with sports presenter Garry Richardson's waspish wit and laconic delivery of even the most boring of items (usually concerning Olympic funding).

This past week, however, he excelled himself with a couple of comedy turns surpassing even the heights of a non-interview with Brendan Foster. One involved that old staple: a mobile phone going off in the middle of a report, which he promptly worked into his bulletin like a stand-up comedian responding to a sharp heckle.

The other, for which there doesn't seem to be an audio file available, came the day after, when Garry was stranded at home snowed in and was doing his reports "down the line". Much banter ensued, mostly along the lines of "don't worry about the noise, it's just the kids running up the stairs", topped off with an email read out by John Humphrys from your archetypal Today listener (concerned yet whimsical) about the amount of money the BBC could save by always having Garry do his bulletin from his house. "In fact, why have any presenters travel into the studio at all? For one thing, the BBC's carbon footprint could be shrunk considerably!"

Gags about carbon emissions just after some doomed horse racing tips? The perfect blend.

09 February, 2007

Ian Richardson RIP

This hails from when the Oldie Magazine gave Ken Livingstone (moustachioed, therefore pre-Blair) an award for "servives to the homeless and secretarial staff". Bill Haydon, seen here wielding one of Thatcher's favourite carving knives, was one of the judges.

08 February, 2007

Photo clippage #5

Esther unveils new That's Life reporting team.

07 February, 2007

Round the corner on a Yamaha

To herald the news that Mars Bars are no longer to be marketed to the under-12s (a situation which will clearly lead to a thriving underground black market of classroom confectionary) Eddie Mair played the product's familiar old advertising jingle on PM the other day.

When growing up in the playgrounds of the East Midlands I always heard this amended to run:

A Mars a day
Helps your teeth rot away

While a two-line sting for New Trebor Spearmints was hastily reworded as:

New Trebor Spearmints are a minty bit stronger
Stick 'em up yer bum and they last a bit longer

There are probably at least five and a half million people writing about these things online at this precise moment in time. It'd be a lie to insist otherwise. Still, as Homer Simpson observed, it takes two to lie: one to lie and one to listen. So here are a couple of other notable re-stylings from Loughborough's morning breaktimes:

We three kings of Orient are
One in a taxi, one in a car
One on a scooter, blowing a hooter
Reading the Daily Star

And perhaps most spectacular of all:

Jesus Christ Superstar
Came round the corner on a Yamaha
Did a skid, killed a kid
Knackered his balls on a dustbin lid

04 February, 2007

The Seven Ages of Clive James


DATES: 19whenever-1972

FEATS: Getting here, getting noticed and getting on. Winding up Germaine Greer. Starting a TV column in The Listener. Working for the mysteriously-named London Weekend International dreaming up shows like Think Twice because "there were two of us, and we would be doing quite a lot of thinking".

FOLLIES: Writing comedy songs. Writing short stories. Writing epic poetry. Writing anything except TV reviews.

'ALLO CLIVE!: Assorted hangers-on and compadres included Julie "Argentina" Covington, Russell "No T" Davies and Barry "Cultural Ambassador" Humphries.

JUST JAMES: "Years later Joan Bakewell told me she thought it was the most irritating single television programme she had ever seen"

IN A WORD: Hirsute


DATES: 1972-1982

FEATS: Invents TV criticism. "This, the man who…" "Developing situation." "Turning into a very freaky scene." "Aptly branded with a title which turns out to be an anagram for Old Krap." "Groovy, doomy". "A plague on it." "Opening and closing doors." "Dusty mist and misty dust." "Wmbldn." "'You're gonna doublet? I doan believe ya!'" "Television history is made out of television." "Didn't need a lolly to suck." "Got nipples together." "Freezing fog situation." "Folds his hands, leans forward and smiles at you from under his moustache." "Two small crows". "Clearing its throat." Also does Saturday Night People with Janet Street Porter and Russell Harty.

FOLLIES: Penning more epic poetry on the side.

'ALLO CLIVE!: Harry the Hawk, Barbara Woodhouse, David Coleman and a thousand other small screen heroes.

JUST JAMES: "To appear on television and explain the futility of television to the masses whose opinion is not worth having - truly this is the work of a saint."

IN A WORD: Seminal


DATES: 1982-1987

FEATS: Debuting 'Postcard' idea with jovial jaunt to Paris Fashion Show. Channel 4 chat show with guests like Alan Coren, AJP Taylor and, naturally, Germaine Greer. Commentating on Formula One for a laugh.

FOLLIES: Going swimming with some Playmates at Hugh Hefner's Playboy mansion. On camera.

'ALLO CLIVE!: Posh film stars. Exiled princesses. Terence Donovan.

JUST JAMES: "I was in the gathering dusk and I suddenly realised there was an eerie silence coming from my left foot. I looked down. I wrote a column on it. I was the first really scientific student of dog mess."

IN A WORD: Glitzy


DATES: 1988-1995

FEATS: Talking by satellite to Vitali Vitaliev. Inventing YouTube. Talking by satellite to Mel Brooks. Stormin' Norman Norman Stormin' Norman Schwartzkopf. Discovering Japanese television. Talking by satellite to Billy Connolly. Playing role of guest judge on the Generation Game. Talking by satellite to TV evangelists/cross-dressers/cross-dressing TV evangelists. Riding the Slippery Dips in Sydney. Getting fitted with a hairpiece in LA. "I'd received word that an extremely eminent and attractive female foreign dignitary was in town and desperate to meet me."

FOLLIES: "And the winner of this year's Teatowel Wearer Of The Year award is…Yasmin Arafat!" Getting to 'Finally Meet' Frank Sinatra.

'ALLO CLIVE!: Jerry Hall, Jane Fonda, Elle MacPherson, Louise Lombard, Caroline Langrishe and a million other glamorous starlets.

JUST JAMES: "How long do you give him?" said Mr Mitterand. "I'll give him three weeks, max," said Mr Hurd. "Don't call me Max," said Mr Mitterand.

IN A WORD: Intercontinental


DATES: 1995-2000

FEATS: Defecting to ITV and not being a complete disaster. Little-seen Clive James On TV effort wherein our host re-read old columns and cued in clips while subject of the criticism sat in the audience looking bemused.

FOLLIES: "Eeez it me yurrrr looookin furrrrr?" She'd already shown up once or twice at the Beeb, but it was only now that Marguerita became the ubiquitous "surprise" guest to bring Clive's telly curtain clunking down week in week out.

'ALLO CLIVE!: See above

JUST JAMES: "Now, to sing us out, in her inimitable style, and you should try imitating it…"

IN A WORD: Earsplitting


DATES: 2000-2004

FEATS: Jacking it in when ITV wanted more Geri Halliwells and less Gore Vidals. Not slagging everyone in the industry off like 95% of most ex-TV presenters.

FOLLIES: Staying quiet for too long.

'ALLO CLIVE!: As far away from Marguerita as possible.

JUST JAMES: "They used to put the arts on with Morecambe and Wise. Those days are gone and they're not coming back."


7) THE 2.0 YEARS


FEATS: Updating his memoirs. Going out on the road. Putting everything he's ever done online. Getting a new weekly Radio 4 slot.

FOLLIES: Resuming the epic poetry (shudder).

'ALLO CLIVE!: Martin Amis. Terry Gilliam. Germaine Greer. All those literary nabobs he interviews in his library for his website.

JUST JAMES: "It's like simultaneously painting and skating and dancing and singing. Everything at once. It's terrific fun."

IN A WORD: Swashbuckling

03 February, 2007

Breakfast At Frostie's

There is but a year until TV-am's 25th anniversary , so what better time to start pencilling in a few putative signings for another TV Cream biopic?

Stephen Fry would have to be Peter Jay: suave, verbose, out-of-his-depth and an old bugalugs. Kristin Scott Thomas would be the perfect Anna Ford, while Jane Horrocks would do the business alongside her on the sofa as Angela Rippon. Michael Sheen, the bloke playing David Frost in the West End, could do the same job here, even though he is the one who does that crap impersonation of Kenneth Williams. Parky, meanwhile, would have to be someone who can do miserable Yorkshire bastards. Timothy Spall, then.

The supporting cast would comprise of Bill Nighy playing Robert Kee, John Fortune doing Jonathan Aitken (and John Bird, inevitably, starring as his cousin Timothy Aitken), Barry Humphries camping it up as Bruce Gyngell and Philip Glenister, for want of anyone else with a big mouth and an accent, playing Greg Dyke.

Rob Brydon could be Nick Owen: the lowly everyman with a penchant for bad puns. Caroline Quentin would be an ideal Anne Diamond: simpering, matronly, obsessed with what's in the papers. David Morrissey would be John Stapleton, Ashley Jensen his on-screen wife Lynn Faulds-Wood (a particular highlight being the scene where Morrissey would be reporting on the Brighton bomb from a phone box while Humphries minced around his office yelling).

Plus there'd be a special cameo from Geoffrey Palmer as Commander Philpott, Roland Rat would play himself, and Catherine Tate could be Mad Lizzie: annoying, loud, and with a penchant for repeating the same catchphrases years beyond the point at which they first became irritating.

01 February, 2007

Photo clippage #4

"Husbands, be sure to always let your wife know that you think about her occasionally: grind your teeth."