28 June, 2008

"You're one step closer to that BBC Acorn computer"

The official BBC Beat The Teacher quiz book, published in 1985, contains some uncomfortably difficult questions. Were these really the type of thing fired by Howard Stableford at wide-eyed kids from the likes of Brickhill Middle School, Bedford and Monk's Walk School, Welwyn Garden City (the eventual champions)?

1) What is the maximum number of similar-sized circular coins, placed flat on a table, that can touch the edge of one other coin of the same size?

2) What is the weight of tuppenny rice and treacle in ounces?

3) Four horses run a race. Bright Star came two places behind All At Sea. Give Us A Kiss was in the first three, and Pottipop wasn't. Who won?

4) What could 'HIJKLMNO' stand for?

That last one in particular is ludicrous.

The thing is, nine times out of ten (well, seven at least) the kids faced with such riddles would fire back the responses with face-punching ease. Sometimes the teachers would upstage the lot (and Stableford, or his decreasingly convincing successors) with a look that screamed of staff-room-superiority the next morning.

Anyway, if the series was back on today, with - say - Adrian Chiles presenting (though in reality it'd be someone like Dermot O'Leary) it's hard to believe this level of questioning would be present. Ditto the show's creator and question-setter Clive Doig.

What year did decimalisation take place?

would become something like:

What is the four-letter name beginning with E for the currency used in, among others, France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Luxembourg, the Republic of Ireland and Italy?

And they'd still get it wrong.

(Answers to the four questions above will follow)

27 June, 2008

"Cost: under a pound, you know"

Courtesy of Chris Hughes, Jill Phythian and Jon Peake (who, in an alternative universe, would be the current Blue Peter team), here's an itemised, bullet-pointed analysis of two light popular classics.


- Had a lovely time

- Cost: under a pound, you know

- Walked along the seafront

- Heard a brass band

- Elsie and me had a cup of tea

- Took a pedalo boat out

- Jack (cuddled with)

- Opened a bottle of cider

- Sang a few of our favourite songs

- Ate chocolate ice

- Ferris wheel

- Elsie felt sick

- Said goodbye to the seaside

- Cash on demand (wouldn't it be grand to have)


- Score with chick (in disco bar)

- Car (hairy little)

- Went to school with her ma and pa

- Scared to look at mirror in light of day

- Wrangler's (scared to zip up, belly in way)

- Barber takes a little less time each week

- Offered seat when walk into a disco

- Prefer pint of mild to Bacardi and Coke

- Lights (too bright); Smoke (too much)

- Stroke (fear of having)

- Like disco king meets Yogi Bear

- Vick (rub on where used to rub Brut)

- Latest punk fashion is wedding suit

- Sex appeal (have to go shopping for)

- Ultra-violet light (dentures glow in)

- Takes all night to do what you use to do all night

25 June, 2008

"I was promised Sue MacGregor; who are you?"

Here's a brilliant clip from an edition of the Today programme in 2001, wherein John Humphrys receives a telephone call from an inhabitant of the planet Skaro.

It's followed by an appallingly po-faced discussion about the future of Dr Who, wherein somebody called Michael Hanlon expresses his view that to ever bring the show back to television would be "an abomination" and that "it wouldn't stand a chance".

23 June, 2008

"The same thing happened to poor old Reggie Maudling"

Anthony Howard is one of those people who has already lived forever. He's impossibly permanent. Every time there's yet another political scandal, a shock resignation, a change of Prime Minister, he's there. On the TV, on the radio, everywhere, as reassuring as the sound of a whistling kettle or an aspirin fizzing in a glass of water.

"Well, of course, the same thing happened to poor old Reggie Maudling..." "I think the closest example I can think of was George Brown's attack on Harold Wilson in the spring of 1968..." "We haven't witnessed this kind of seismic shift in fortunes since the days of 'Orpington Man'..."

He's still as insightful and essential as ever, half a century since he began his trade. And to mark the anniversary, he's doing a series of short talks on Radio 4 called Fifty Years Before The Masthead. They're wonderfully no-holds-barred yarns, with our man even daring to include mention of - shudder - a close encounter with Michael Parkinson when the latter was busy cultivating a lifetime's supply of mean-spirited moaning while working as "a proper journalist".

Let's hope he's around for a good few more "worst week ever for the Prime Minister - since the last one!" yet.

22 June, 2008

"A couple of tunes by a couple of prongs"

A plug for an album by Adam and Joe, which is available on iTunes from Monday. It's a collection of their ace 'Song Wars' efforts, wherein each comes up with a self-penned, self-performed ode to an emphatically ordinary subject, then plays them to listeners of their 6 Music show for evaluation.

Let's hope the sequel-touting title doesn't follow the precedent set by Listen Without Prejudice Volume 1. Similar sales figures wouldn't be that bad, mind.

"Masterpieces of DIY tunesmithery" - TV Cream, yesterday.

21 June, 2008

"This is the story of how I died - but not really!"

Ahead of the nation's largest simultaneous ejaculation, when Billie Piper returns to Dr Who tonight, the TV Cream Matrix Databank has been busy calculating where Rose's long-inevitable ingress ranks in terms of all-time TV and radio re-appearances. And the results are in!

1) Harold Bishop returns to Neighbours.
2) Angela Rippon joins the ITN News Channel to update viewers on the war in Iraq, but only during working hours because there's no news after 6.00pm.
3) Michael Grade goes back to save the BBC after Greg Dyke was chased out of Broadcasting House by Lord Hutton and Geoff Hoon.
4) The return of Sherlock Holmes in Granada TV's The Return Of Sherlock Holmes.
5) Alan Freeman returns to present Pick Of The Pops on Radio 1.
6) Alan Freeman returns to present Pick Of The Pops on Radio 2.
7) The swingometer returns to the BBC's general election coverage.
8) Bob Monkhouse returns to Celebrity Squares ("Hello celebrities!")
9) Mark Kermode returns to Mark Radcliffe's graveyard shift on Radio 1 after two weeks' absence due to injuring his back in a minor road accident.
10) The chimes of Big Ben return to the Six O'clock News on Radio 4 after having their once-in-20-years polish.

Oh dear! It seems there's no room for a warm hand on Rose's entrance* in the top 10 all-time TV returns. And sadly the TV Cream Dr Who Matrix Databank cannot calculate any list-based trivia beyond 258 places (or the number of times Russell T Davies has dropped an incongruous popular culture reference into one his scripts), so it's not clear whether Billie Piper appears in the chart at all. Ah well. Happy wanking.

*A premature taster for all the fanboys counting down until this evening.

19 June, 2008

"It's very simply really, you just...KABOOOOM!"

Surely the most stirring title sequence ever:

16 June, 2008

"...But was it ever like this?"

That holy trinity of pop anecdotage, Paul Gambaccini, Tim Rice and Jonathan Rice, have this to say about 1986 in their book Guinness Hits Of The 1980s:

"Any objective observer would have to concede that 1986 was not one of the best years of the decade for popular music."

The evidence, for them, is that "none of its hit singles, not even the year's number one by the Communards, 'Don't Leave Me This Way', figured in the top 20 best-sellers of the decade."

Tsk. Typical. It's all a matter of numbers and statistics for those three. Might it actually be the case that 1986 was...the best year from the 1980s for pop singles?

'Kiss', 'Ask', 'Levi Stubbs' Tears', 'You Can Call Me Al', 'E=MC2', 'Think For A Minute', 'Fall On Me', 'Suburbia', 'Cut Me Down', 'Live To Tell', 'World Shut Your Mouth', 'Digging Your Scene', 'Manic Monday', 'Venus', 'Have You Ever Had It Blue?', 'Absolute Beginners' and the best number one of the year, 'The Sun Always Shines On TV' - just some of the ace songs dismissed out of hand by the grumbling trio. They go on to claim:

"One good measure of the weakness of the singles market was that none of the records that became number one in 1986 stayed there for more than four weeks."

Well, quite. Anyway, in the words of Ian MacDonald, let those with ears, let them hear. Or in the words of Macca in his not-a-smash-hit from 1986, 'Press': Oklahoma was never like this - but was it ever like this?

15 June, 2008

"Switch Off Something...right now!"

It's pretty clear we're heading into another period of belt-tightening, sock-pulling, sleeve-rolling, penny-counting austerity.

Already the news bulletins are full of talk of "prices" in a way not seen since what can casually be referred to as The Entire 1970s. Shirley Williams's "three-shilling loaf" has given way to Harriet Harman's thirty-shilling French stick. Shortages are going to become the norm. Fights will return to corner shops over ownership of the last banana in the parish. And the cost of operating a three-bar fire will soon reach the equivalent of that legendary benchmark of exaggeration, a trip to Timbuktu.

Hence it's high time to revive this memorable initiative:

Because there's not a moment to lose, publicity materials have already been designed, featuring the three "faces" of the campaign: Adrian Chiles (to show it's OK for blokes to be concerned about saving the planet), Carol Vorderman (to reassure the Countdown generation) and Rolf Harris (because official Parliamentary statutes declare he has to be involved in any state of national emergency).

Look out for these appearing on giant billboards near you soon:

14 June, 2008

"Yellow, red, black or white"

This week's Digi-Cream Times video, featuring Mary Whitehouse (again), someone doing that hands-across-the-knees 1920s dancing, Esther Rantzen in a barrow and lots of girls, girls, girls:

12 June, 2008

"What are you worried about?" "Prices, mainly"

Next Tuesday at 8pm on BBC4 there's a repeat of Michael Cockerell's documentary on Margaret Thatcher's rise to power, and if you missed it first time round it really is well worth tuning in.

The amount of archive clippage is extraordinary; testament, presumably, to Mike's success at being around For A Very Long Time and making sure everything he did and everywhere he went was on film.

There's a fantastic bit right at the very start where footage of our man standing in front of Olympic Studios in 1979 (to witness the recording of the official Tory election song, a bizarre music hall burlesque knees-up) fades into him standing in precisely the same spot today. Somehow he's got a clip of Maggie rehearsing a party political broadcast, again from 1979 ("Enough *is* enough...*enough* is enough...*enough* is *enough"). There's Thatcher looking exhausted and going to pieces at a press conference in the mid-70s while on a foreign junket.

Then there's stuff from her very first recorded interview, from programmes to which she contributed in the 60s and early 70s, her turn on Val Meets The VIPs, the spooky interview she did just before becoming leader...

Loads of things, basically, spliced together with tons of other contemporary archivery including - yes! - that shot from during the three-day week of old women going round a supermarket with a lighted candle tied to their trolleys.

Given the subject, it's a thoroughly entertaining cycle down austerity alley. It's great that Cockerell is still in work. Really there ought to be The Michael Cockerell Hour on BBC2 every single week. He must certainly have enough historical footage stored away for it.

08 June, 2008

"Stephen!" "Yes?" "I'm in trouble!" "Just coming!"

There's already a thread about this on NotBBC, but it's just too good a subject to pass over by way of a lazy-blog-filling end-of-the-weekend tonic.

A few weeks ago on their 6 Music show*, Adam and Joe asked listeners to send in memories of, and examples from, juvenilia. Sadly the chance to hear the duo's audio adaptation of the short-lived comic STEPHEN! is no longer available online, but it's already prompted somebody to go to the trouble of re-imagining the cover, plus animate a version for YouTube.

If you heard this particular show live, or via the podcast, you'll know it was one of the funniest things ever. In fact, the whole subject of demented childhood literary and pictoral creations could easily run and run. Which is precisely what the pair have done, turning it into a regular feature.

Anyway, if ever you're walking down the street and hear the cry go up, "STEPHEN!", you'll know salvation is but a politely restrained response away.

*The best programme on the radio

06 June, 2008

"She was only a grocer's daughter"

This week's Digi-Cream Times, replete with Timmy Mallett, the theme from Holiday '80, and SATIRE.

05 June, 2008

"I knew it was an offer you couldn't refuse"

It's always fun seeing dramatisations of life at the BBC, and last week's Mary Whitehouse knockabout was no exception. But they're all too rare, and there's a ton of stuff that could be given the same treatment.

So here's an idea for anybody - though preferably Roly Keating at BBC2 - to commission: a drama serial along the lines of Our Friends In The North, telling the history of the Beeb from the end of the Second World War up to, say, 1987 when John Birt arrived and the DG was sacked.

Each episode would focus on one particular year, like 1955 when ITV started or 1978 when Christmas almost got cancelled because of strikes. The same actors would play the same characters throughout the series (again, like Our Friends). Other people would come and go through the decades. There'd be appearances from then-contemporary politicians and celebrities.

It would, it could, be marvellous. The key, though, would be the casting. For starters, how about:

BILL COTTON: Warren Clarke
MICHAEL GRADE: David Morrissey
DAVID FROST: Michael Sheen
ESTHER RANTZEN: Caroline Quentin
FRANK BOUGH: Anthony Head
TERRY WOGAN: Peter Serafinowicz

03 June, 2008

"We all rushed to the canteen during Ultravox"

Here's a fantastic clip from the fantastic RDA, a show that deserved so much more of everything (acclaim, audience, recommissions...).

It's John introducing a tribute to studio 2 at Television Centre, followed by the best way to end a series ever:

02 June, 2008

"Now I wanna hear just the men, c'mon fellas!"

I know this isn't strictly to do with normal TV Cream matters, but this blog has been flying the flag for Macca almost from day one, so regular readers won't be entirely surprised by what follows.

I was lucky enough to be at Anfield last night along with fellow TV Cream-ite Chris Hughes and 36,000 others to see Paul McCartney's contribution to Liverpool's otherwise utterly-ignored and (as far as I can see) justly-maligned year as the European Capital of Culture. And it was the best gig I have ever seen.

The atmosphere probably wasn't captured in full on the TV highlights, but the air inside the ground was crackling with excitement, awe, wonderment and a dozen other emotional extremes. This was heady stuff indeed.

The man was on peak form, playing for almost two hours, doing everything from Penny Lane to C Moon to Blackbird to Jet to I Saw Her Standing There. It was captivating. I've never experienced anything like it, and the fact I assuredly never will again just made it all the more overwhelming. To be hearing the person who wrote Let It Be, The Long And Winding Road and Yesterday singing those songs in front of you, songs that the whole world knows, left me about as moved as I've ever been. To be singing along with so many thousands of others in unison, word perfect, was heartbreaking.

And coming 24 hours after one of the best episodes of Dr Who to date, it made for about as good a weekend as you can get.

Anyway, that is all. Back to mundane boring observations about old telly and stuff tomorrow.

Here's a list of songs he played (not in the right order, mind):

I Saw Her Standing There
I'll Follow The Sun
Drive My Car
Got To Get You Into My Life
Eleanor Rigby
Penny Lane
Day In The Life
Lady Madonna
Back In The USSR
Hey Jude ("Now c'mon, just the ladies, let's hear it girls!")
The Long And Winding Road
Let It Be
Something (dedicated to George and played on a ukelele he gave Paul as a present)

Live And Let Die
My Love (dedicated to Linda)
C Moon
Let Me Roll It
Band On The Run

Flaming Pie

Calico Skies
Dance Tonight

A new song about Liverpool I didn't know
Give Peace A Chance
Hippy Hippy Shake