31 May, 2007

Photo clippage #18

Here's where Russell T Davies has been going wrong. Bailing out after three and a bit series? Pah! JNT was there for, well, forever! The reason? Shameless publicity stunts done on the cheap in the Television Centre car park!

29 May, 2007

The Macca Video Jukebox: part six


The money's run out.

a) The title track off the eponymous album, it flopped as a single, reaching a staggering number 53 in October 1982.
b) It is, however, a candidate for the finest song Paul has come up with post-Beatles.

a) Someone's rung up Movietone or Getty and got a job lot of cheap footage hailing from between the wars.
a) George Martin, hard at work in the console room, sporting the obligatory smart shirt and occasionally enjoying a hearty chuckle with some colleagues.
b) Macca and missus fooling around like primary school kids during the instrumental break.
c) Paul tapping out the drum part during the "dancing to the beat" bit on George's console.
d) Paul "playing" his guitar like it's a violin during the coda.
e) The fact Paul looks younger here than he did during the entire 1970s.

VERDICT: You know you mustn't grumble...

28 May, 2007

"I don't want that appearing in Private Eye"

Aubrey Singer, whose death was announced today, was your archetypal old school BBC mandarin: stubborn, garrulous, indiscreet and decidedly eccentric, but was repeatedly unimpeachable thanks to the way he turned departments into fiefdoms, and could exact revenge upon his critics by spreading scurrilous gossip about them around the BBC club.

An epic 13-year reign at the head of the science and features department established Singer's profile at the BBC, as had the flagship programmes - Tomorrow's World, Horizon, Chronicle - he'd both coaxed and bullied the Corporation into making.

Another of those post-war recruits who'd started out serving time in the organisation's lowest ranks before steadily climbing upwards, Singer was desperately ambitious, and it was a shameless stitch-up that got him into the dream job of BBC2 Controller in 1974: the newly-appointed Director of Programmes, Alasdair Milne, was one of Singer's cronies and sweet-talked the Governors into ensuring his friend was handed the job without even an interview.

Singer ran BBC2 as if a High Commissioner of the Indian Empire, planning programmes in conspiratorial conversations behind closed doors before nipping out to a nearby restaurant to entertain high-flying celebrities and noted intellectuals to lavish five-course banquets. If he did invite someone from outside his tight circle of friends for an audience, it was more likely to demonstrate a new gadget he'd bought from his local electrical shop than to discuss ratings.

But there were plenty of hits: I, Claudius, Men of Ideas, The Body in Question, Inside Story, Arena, Newsday, Fawlty Towers, One Man and His Dog, Gardeners World, Face the Music and Six English Towns.

Still, all too often Singer's personal obsessions bubbled over from being a healthy influence to a positive curse. He introduced the idea of BBC2 running thematic "seasons" of programmes, but then proceeded to dictate their content. The somewhat unwieldy and overbearing Russia Week and China Week ensued (reflecting Singer's preoccupation with foreign travel), but worse of all was Opera Month: an endless stream of ponderous productions choking up the airwaves for hours every evening.

As much to keep the man quiet as anything else, in 1978 the new Director-General Ian Trethowan dispatched Singer to Broadcasting House in the unlikely guise of Managing Director of BBC Radio. He proceeded to sulk for four years in-between bungling attempts to reduce the number of BBC orchestras.

He frantically wanted a shot at being Director-General, and contrived to get the latest BBC Chairman, George Howard, to promise him the Managing Director of Television job the next time it came up. Sure enough when Alasdair Milne replaced Trethowan as DG and came to pick his new team, his choice of Bill Cotton for MD was overruled and Singer landed the post (plus the title of Deputy Director-General) instead.

Singer promptly converted his new office annexe into a gargantuan private dining room, from where he preferred to conduct all business with a select few over a generous quantity of port and cigars ("It's not my personal dining room," he would insist to junior colleagues, "I don't want that appearing in Private Eye.")

Milne ordered him to quit in early 1984 as the pair returned from a pheasant shoot. "It's been a rum old year so far," Singer reflected. "On January 1st I was awarded the CBE, on the 7th I was asked if I wanted early retirement, on the 23rd I was asked to act as Director-General for two weeks, and in February I pick up a newspaper to read what my plans are."

Inevitably the severance deal was generous: Singer received £500,000 to launch his own company, which he cheekily titled White City Films, the name he knew the Beeb had planned for their own film offshoot. He was supposed to deliver a number of agreed projects, but after two documentaries on China and Vietnam he blew half of his funds on a show reel for a helicopter-borne history series that was too expensive to be commissioned. He remained boss of White City Films until 1994, then retired. His son, Adam, went on to run Flextech and Telewest.

Aubrey Singer, RIP; best remembered for stealing cigars from the BBC boardroom cabinet and nicking unopened whisky bottles from the BAFTAs.

26 May, 2007

He's still here

It's been a while since Sir John Major MP offered up one of his arcane utterances for public enjoyment, so it was a nice surprise to find him back on form in today's Guardian, essaying an allusion for Tony Blair's long handover to Gordon Brown that was as whimsical as it was incomprehensible. Namely, it's proving to be "the longest farewell since Dame Nellie Melba quit the stage".

Come again? When was the last time you heard anybody, let alone a public figure, and let alone an ex-Prime Minister, refer to Nellie Melba?

One of the few things it is genuinely possible to miss from the Major years is the regular materialisation of such verbal frippery in, usually, the most incongruous of places. Here are a few of Major's greatest hits, all of which are impossible to reproduce without an exclamation mark.

"New age travellers? Not in this age! Not in any age!"

"When I was born my mother was was 47; my father was...surprised!"

"When your back is against the wall, it is time to turn round and start fighting!"

"People with vision usually do more harm than good!"

"It is time to put up or shut up!"

"A soundbite never buttered a parsnip!"

24 May, 2007

Where have all the Good Times gone?

As alluded to in this week's Digi-Cream Times mailout, the Radio Times has undergone a revamp and accompanying price rise.

In her indulgently-extended introductory column, Gill Hudson justifies the extra two pence by contesting "we still, however, represent the best value for money in the premium listings market."

This is akin to Tony Blair arguing that, regardless of everything he's done, he can still be considered the best Prime Minister of Britain to have been named Tony Blair. Or Elaine Paige's Radio 2 Sunday lunchtime showtunes programme calling itself "the nation's most listened-to showtunes programme". Something being unique (in a quantitive sense) can't be used as a justification in and of itself! What on earth is Gill talking about?!

Fortunately, once you remove that adhesive doobrey from the contents page, the residual gum means that when you next come to open your copy of Radio Times, Gill's introduction remains stuck to the inside cover and you are carried straight over into the magazine proper.

As for the revamps, it's hard to see in what ways your average denizen of the radio pages will benefit from the inclusion of scheduling information detailing when they can hear the likes of G Child, Twin B, Semtex and Xzibit on 1Xtra, even if they do promise "party flavas". At least one reader, meanwhile, thought he'd never live to see the day when Hawksbee and Jacobs got their own billing.

In the TV pages, meanwhile, Gill has retained the most useless element (Today's Choices, more often than not Today's Programmes We Don't Really Like But Are The Only Ones We Can Think Of Anything To Write About) but expanded the digital pages to the extent of giving the same amount of space to both BBC4 and ITV4, thereby implying some kind of parity of importance and quality between them.

Ah well. In time it's probable all this will start to feel like the norm. But there have been a hell of a lot of revamps of RT recently, none of them self-evidently necessary nor demonstrably an improvement on the last.

Oh, and Alison Graham's photo seems to have been replaced with that of a spinster in a smock who's just stood in a pheasant poacher's trap.

22 May, 2007

"And I don't think any of us will forget THAT adventure in a hurry!"

Not enough thought is going into solving what has become the annual Dr Who mid-season blues.

Simply dusting down an old monster costume (2005), ringing up Peter Kay (2006) or doing a few line drawings of Paul McGann (2007) is not good enough. No, a far more imaginative and enjoyable strategy suggests itself, something they've been doing in America for decades, but which - sadly - has never caught on here.

It is, of course, the clips show.

Ran out of ideas for your next script, Russell? Give us some of your greatest hits! Or rather - because that would make for a very short episode indeed - the other writers' greatest hits! There'd be no shame whatsoever in running one, two or even three clip shows throughout a specially extended season, each told from a different person's perspective (the Doctor, Martha, Kamelion) and packed with choice moments from adventures old and new.

"Don't mind me," Dr Who would chortle, looking up from his scrap book to notice that Rose and Tegan had just walked into the console room, "just taking a 750-year-old hike down memory lane!" At which point we'd hurtle off round the galaxy for a glittering catalogue of brusquely edited bon mots and excursionism, occasionally cutting back to the TARDIS to have someone proffer a useful bit of exposition ("Phew! I certainly won't be listening to any ticking clocks again in a hurry!").

Then at the end the credits could roll over a selection of Dr Who bloopers, during which someone would swear profusely, Russell T Davies would get caught on camera, and a Dalek head would pop open to reveal John Barrowman inside.

Forget the Doctor's wife, or whatever this next episode is called; on with the clips!

21 May, 2007

Photo clippage #17

In the future, everyone will pose for photos like this.

19 May, 2007

Brought to book

Jonathan Ross was very generous about the latest TV Cream tome this morning, even going to the extent of regaling guest Paul Merton with the list of classic silent film titles. Thoroughly deserved praise for m'colleagues Messrs Norman and Diamond. The show can be heard again here; unfortunately the Merton bit was in the very last ten minutes of the, erm, three hours.

Slight return: you can now hear the relevant clip here.

17 May, 2007

Massive big fuck-off light entertainment

Here's a fine piece of archivery: part of an edition of The Late Show devoted to the demise of LWT at the hands of Granada in 1994.

Everyone who counts shows up: Greg Dyke, cutting loose in a rumpled shirt; Michael Grade, leaning back in braces avowing "no company could touch LWT"; John Birt, looking shifty; and David Frost in vintage anecdotage mood. Plus there's clips of Walden burbling at Michael Howard, Ray Snoddy going on about "a slightly spivvy atmosphere", and Michael Barrymore doing textbook Michael Barrymore with, yes, a bemused pair of pensioners reduced to incapicating laughter.

15 May, 2007

States of play

Paul Gambaccini turned up on the Today programme the other morning.

He'd be invited on because, obviously, a matter of supreme import required the sort of lucid, capricious commentary only his particular lexicon of musicology could supply: namely, the UK's dismal performance in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Gambo didn't disappoint, rolling out much learned discombobulation about the quality of previous Eurovision "rekkerds", how the UK is still being punished for invading Iraq, and how Scooch nonetheless had "the last laugh" by "making it into the top ten of the latest network chart listings" - what, in everyone else's language, is called the Top 40.

It was a pithy reminder both of the man's legendary verbosity and the logic-defying staying power exhibited by his slot on Radio 2.

America's Greatest Hits, squatting at Saturday teatimes for fuck knows how long, is the most bizarre programme on national radio. Ancient crackly rekkerds from the back of beyond nestle alongside obscure R'n'B "cuts" which are "racing up the Billboard charts and taking the AM stations by storm". Gambo's voice has never aged; it's always had that fey, whiskery, raconteurish quality that's just as endearing as it is enervating.

Then there's all that information. "This, a song first written precisely 32 years ago, and subsequently recorded by no fewer than six artistes, now receives an incredible seventh outing..." "After 13 weeks outside the Billboard top ten, it's a number two placing for a woman who began singing at the age of six in her local methodist gospel choir..." And inevitably: "Soon to be making waves on both sides of the Atlantic, he's someone who has the honour of being up for a rekkerd 12 Grammy nominations, and who now invites you to [insert corny song title here]."

Naturally, if he tried to change any of this schtick, it'd be a crime. And if he got axed, it'd be the sort of thing you'd complain to the BBC about even though you'd only ever listened to the show by accident rather than design.

Anyway, it was good fun to hear Gambo out of his usual den and jousting with Edward Stourton and James Naughtie at 7.40am. As it is, he can't have much else to do with his time during the week. Other than wonder when Simon Bates will finally get round to finalising the line-up for that Madeleine McCann charity record.

14 May, 2007

Photo clippage: Wogan special

Tel essays the first Eurovision supergroup:

A couple of visitors to the verdant pastures of Shepherd's Bush Green:

Tel tries the old "I think there's chocolate inside" gag:

Ee gads!

Tel bids adieu to "dear old Dukey, and the cardboard box in which oft he dwells, tucked away in a corner of the battered atrium of Broadcasting House":

12 May, 2007

"You don't look like no Doctor to me, love!"

What with all the camp shouting, garish costumes, grotesque gurning and the feeling that you're watching the same thing over and over again every three minutes, the Eurovision Song Contest will prove more than an adequate replacement for Dr Who this week.

Meanwhile the present hiatus in the time wizard's jabbering perambulations around the galaxy affords an opportunity to speculate not just on when the good Doctor will get round to actually placing himself in a decent story again, but also just who, by way of surprise loud-voiced variety-esque guest stars, Russell T Davies might have lined up for a cameo before the final episode and the usual plot about how the world's in danger of being destroyed for the 75th time.

At this stage last year there were still the delights of Huw Edwards and Barbara Windsor to come; the year before, Anne Robinson's voice and Victor Meldrew. Based on a combination of painstaking research, detailed analysis, and looking at a few random pictures, all, none or fewer of the following five personalities have emerged as the most likely candidates this series:

Playing a rough diamond living it up in Cardiff, her no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is attitude, coupled with a heart of gold, helps the Doctor mend a hole in the Rift that accidentally opens up when he shouts in a particularly echoing subway.

Reprising his role of the Tollmaster from the 1980s story Delta and the Bannerman, Doddy joins the TARDIS crew for yet another whimsical pantomime episode set on a far flung planet peopled by bug-eyed monsters, bits of poorly CGI'd Cardiff and gay music.

There is a political crisis in the UK of the near-future. The Prime Minister, Tommy Blear, having held office for 10 years, is stepping down prematurely after a controversial foriegn policy initiative. His long-tipped replacement, Gideon Brone, suddenly goes AWOL. Has he been abducted by the leader of the opposition, an alien imposter named Daffyd Cameroon who claims to be from Cardiff but has actually come through the Rift? Maybe the BBC's political editor can help.

Starring as the Brigadier: bluff, sassy, but trying to juggle a career with being a mother of two kids - one of whom is a stroppy teenager, the other a deaf mute - plus an estranged husband who works full-time for the Countryside Alliance.

Martha walks into a room only to hear someone making a joke about black people. Her initial discomfort is quickly erased, however, when she realises the voice belongs to none other than funnyman Ricky Gervais, who is in the middle of another sell-out national tour. Gervais later wins the Doctor's favour after completely disarming Derek Jacobi/John Simm/whoever else ends up playing the Master with a remark about how all disabled people are tax-dodging frauds, which he delivers at the same time as someone in a wheelchair comes in the room.

11 May, 2007

Photo clippage #16

Frostie admires his favourite view.

09 May, 2007

Wonderful to be with you again

Not having noticed Nicholas Owen slip gracefully from his berth at ITN Towers, it was something of a shock to see that the silver-haired fop has taken on new employment at BBC News 24.

He's usually on the afternoon shift with a rotating line-up of young women - perhaps hand-picked by Nick as part of his contract. To be fair he does a pretty decent job, but then he was doing a pretty decent job at ITN when most people weren't, and now he's up against competition of the calibre of Peter Sissons. Still, it's a notable second wind for the man, and hence more than enough reason to muster a list of other newscasting comebacks:


"It came just at the right moment," waxed the citrus-coloured charmer on being recalled from semi-retirement by Greg Dyke to read the TV-am news. "I'd been writing non-stop for six years. I felt I could do with having people around me for a while. Coming back was no great shock. Some people didn't even know I'd gone!" He promptly signalled his change of direction by penning TV-am's Big Book Of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson's Royal Wedding. Among his contributions to the BFI's One Day In The Life Of Television project in 1988 were details of a dream involving "Mike Morris being irritating, wanting to take some photo of me," and his thoughts on...


...who retured from a post-TV-am wilderness to do the Six O'Clock News on the BBC in 1988. "She's only doing three bulletins a week," Gordon sniffed. "Very bourgeois of the Beeb to appoint her. Such impeccable tones and features so perfect are not right for the news, as wrong as spots and a squint. Interfere with the imparting of information." Would, Gordon wondered, she get along with "Smuggins" (Martyn Lewis) or the "Poisoned Carrot", aka "Twatchell", aka Nicholas Witchell?


Gamely played along with Chris Evans's fooling and Gaby Roslin's fawning as the stand-in newsreader on The Big Breakfast When It Was Good. Later attempted, and pulled off, a double hello (unlike the double goodbye, which should never be essayed), courtesy of the ITN News Channel when the Iraq War began. It wasn't her fault that said channel closed down overnight when "there wasn't any news".


Because ITN have clearly got so many well-known newsreaders, they can afford to let him go. Ditto...


Now acting as Kirsty Young's deputy on Five News, and doing it fairly well. Just be thankful Alastair "Will read news for food" Stewart hasn't followed his colleagues back behind the desk.


Dear God. What was the BBC thinking when it decided to promote Martyn Lewis and Phillip Hayton from the One O'Clock News and, in their place, appoint the two least telegenic, least affable and most grizzled veterans imaginable, Ed Stourton and John Tusa? At least the former made good as an excellent presenter of the Today programme. Tusa, though, could never and has never shaken off his grumpy bastard demeanour, always looking like reading the news was a huge personal inconvenience and then, with every other breath, gratuitously slagging off his paymasters.


Flounced off Breakfast Time because she didn't like the early mornings, only to later re-emerge reading the news on Sky...at breakfast time.


From regional telly to Breakfast Time to regional telly to doing her best Judy Finnegan.


A big star in the 1980s on Newsround and an even bigger star in the 1990s on...ah. Can't quite recall when he took up as Jon Snow's bagman, but it must have been fairly recently, because he turned up on Election '97 hanging round one of the more obscure Tory counts. And reporting on a declaration as well (SATIRE).


Aside from playing Newsreader on at least half a dozen late 80s/early 90s sitcoms and sketch shows, Richard managed to enjoy not only a second wind but a second generation of exposure when his moustache stood in for an incapacitated John Craven on Newsround.

07 May, 2007

Such a little thing makes a big difference

Any excuse will do, it seems, for a media-led Smiths/Morrissey anniversary. At least Sean O'Hagan in yesterday's Observer chose one that held a little substance than most: 25 years since the band formed. In contrast to his pick of ten definitive Smiths songs, here are ten of the most excruciatingly-named Morrissey songs:

1) King Leer
Deserving of extra special mention for its appalling opening verse:
Your boyfriend he
Went down on one knee
Well could it be
He's only got one knee?

2) Lucky Lisp
Songs about speech impediments probably warrant somewhat more subtle titles.

3) Ouija Board, Ouija Board
So bad he named it twice.

4) Roy's Keen
Later released on an EP with Ryan's Gig and Nicky's Butt.

5) Now I Am A Was

6) We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful
They assuredly feel the same, Moz.

7) You're The One For Me, Fatty
Unbelievably released as a follow-up single to no 6).

8) The National Front Disco
See also Bengali In Platforms, Asian Rut, This Is Not Your Country...

9) Let The Right One Slip In

10) The Harsh Truth Of The Camera Eye
Crap in both name and substance:
This photographer,
he must have really had it in for yer.

05 May, 2007


There's a fantastic bit in Andrew Collins's new book - one of many - wherein he details the time he and Stuart Maconie unwittingly perpetrated the most heinous broadcasting crime imaginable: double-booking a studio with Simon Bates:

We pulled open the outer heavy door and shouldered open the heavy inner one. Somebody was in there.
"Oops. Sorry," we said, not recognising him at first.
"Are you in here?" Batesy said, turning to greet us.
"Y-yes, we're pre-recording some items for Mark Goodier's programme."
"Ah. I thought this studio had been booked out."
"I don't know. It must have been Fergus who booked it."
"Don't worry, loves. Crossed wires. I'll sort it out." Meaning I'll soon have you out of here.
A double-booking with one of the immortals of Radio 1 - this was surely a clash we could not win. Batesy picked up the phone, tapped in an internal four-digit number with his sausage fingers and spoke, one assumes, to his producer or other minion.
"Listen love..." He didn't even say who he was, confident that the baritone of his voice would be enough - it was. "I think the studio's been double-booked. These guys are wanting to record something for Mark's show. OK. Well, we'd better look for somewhere else."
He put the phone down. There had been enough urgency in his voice to let the person on the other end know he was pissed off, and yet he used the patronising 'we' to soften the blow of what was an order: you'd better look for somewhere else.
"I'll get out of your way," he said.

Sausage fingers..."loves"...baritone..."I'll sort it out": it's all there. You can't help feeling that Radio 1 became less of an imperial, swaggering place the day Bates hung up his phone, sealed his dossier on fellow employees, and shut down his gossip network for ever.

Here's something Chris Hughes found in the PA archives, dated 14th September, 1989:


Radio One disc jockey Simon Bates needed a medical check-up today when he returned to Britain at the end of his round-the-world charity race.

After suffering a severe stomach upset for the past eight weeks, he said he felt weakened and "slightly malariafied" after his travels, which raised £300,000 for Oxfam. Food poisoning, heat exhaustion and a septic foot added to his troubles during the 78-day journey. And on reaching Dover at dawn this morning he quipped: "One thing I have discovered on this trip is there are more cockroaches than people in the universe."

After visiting 27 countries accompanied by BBC producer Jonathan Ruffle and keeping up live broadcasts to the UK using a portable satellite dish, Bates, 41, may now claim a broadcasting endurance record, a BBC spokesman said. "We crossed 54 borders on the way, which wasn't easy with a satellite dish under your arm because people at the frontiers kept thinking we were spies," the DJ joked today.

The voyage, which slashed 48 hours off Jules Verne's 80-day benchmark, nearly ground to a halt when armed soldiers hunting for drug smugglers surrounded his train in Mexico last month. He made it back to Britain after a high-speed car and ferry chase across Europe this week, which included a 20-hour dash to the English Channel from Venice, Italy.

Asked about his illness, Bates said his most frequent question to people he met during his world travels was: "Hello, can I use your toilet?" "I feel knackered now," he added. "I've just picked up a touch of something nasty. I am slightly malariafied." Ruffle, who also caught the bug, admitted: "We are both feeling a lot weaker for this debilitating disease. We've got permanent trots."

Port authority officials at Dover welcomed Bates with a bottle of champagne early this morning as a crowd of 100 well-wishers gathered at the dockside to cheer him home. During the trip Bates used a wide variety of transport, including camel and donkey, ships, trains, cable cars and rickshaws in Singapore. His journey also took him across the Caribbean and the Atlantic by boat, through central America by train and across the Pacific to Tokyo.

One of the most moving moments came in Bangalore, India, he said, when a blind farmer at an Oxfam camp taught him to plough a field, using his feet to feel the furrows in a straight line. At one point, Bates needed surgery for his own feet when his leg turned septic after an accident in a rice paddy field.

03 May, 2007

Photo clippage: election special

Mrs Thatcher buys some cheese, 1979:

1981: the Gang of Four step out.

Inside the Press Association's results room, 1964:

1959: SuperMac wins on a show of straw boaters.

An army of ghosts: Norman Tebbit, Geoffrey Howe, Francis Pym, Michael Heseltine, Tom King, Willie Whitelaw, Margaret Thatcher and Cecil Parkinson in 1983.

1987: the Kinnock express.