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Thursday, August 11, 2016

All TV Should Be Like Carpool Karaoke

One of the reasons Carpool Karaoke has taken the world by storm is it finally solves the problem which has been apparent to the people in front of the camera for years but never seemed to get through to the people behind the camera - what makes performers nervous is not the thought of the millions of people at home; it's the thought of the half-dozen camera operators and production personnel who are standing just a few feet away.

Carpool Karaoke is shot the same way that Top Gear is, in cars kitted out with invisible cameras and microphones, with all the production staff relegated to vehicles either preceding or following. Corden's completely in charge and all the star's fluffers, minders and supernumaries are too far away to get in the way.

I once did a couple of things like this for a cable channel. I drove around Manchester interviewing Tony Wilson and drove around London interviewing Bryan Ferry. I can't tell you how liberating this was compared to the standard TV interview experience.

In fact, all telly should be done like this.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

I've read the Ring Cycle of political biographies. Do I get a badge?


Robert Caro started writing 'The Years Of Lyndon Johnson" in the early 80s. His plan was to be able to cover the President's whole life and times in three volumes. Then he decided that wasn't enough. He's now published four volumes and is working on a fifth. I first tried reading it in the early 90s and gave up. In fact I even took one volume to the charity shop in one of my periodic attempts to thin out my books.

Earlier this year, encouraged by having read a few other presidential biographies, I bought the volumes I didn't have and on holiday I just finished reading the fourth, "The Passage Of Power". The third volume, "Master of The Senate", was so heavy that I bought a book stand to hold it as I read it. And guess what? It's an extraordinary piece of work. I can't wait for volume five, but I'm clearly going to have to.

I'm not going to recommend you should read it because I wouldn't want anyone to make that kind of commitment on my recommendation. I was discussing this with a friend while on holiday. My spirit increasingly rebels when people say "you must read this" or "you have to watch that." You should read or listen to or watch whatever gives you most pleasure. However, if you are in the market for 3,000 plus pages about the life and times of a man who was not all that pleasant but achieved a lot more than most of his better-known peers, here it is.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Think about it. If Francois Hollande has a round- the-clock hairdresser, so does your rock hero



Mark Ellen, Paul Du Noyer, Zoe Howe and I were in Harrogate last week, plugging our books at the local literary festival (and, as you can see, admiring the display in the local Waterstone’s).

Over dinner the evening before we debated that greatest of all rock & roll mysteries, greater even than the unanswered question of who wrote the Book Of Love; how come all the senior superstars of rock still have hair?

There are exceptions. Pete Townshend. James Taylor. A few others. But they are exceptions.

The Rolling Stones, McCartney, Roger Waters, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Rod Stewart all appear to still have tons of the stuff and some of them won’t see seventy again.

It only makes sense if you recognise the fact that hanging on to their hair is not a question of preference; it's a professional imperative. Mark remembered asking Rod Stewart how long he would keep on doing it and he said “as long as I have the barnet”.

This wasn't just a flip comment. This was Rod speaking from the heart. You cannot sing “Maggie May” with a receding hairline. It simply can’t be done. The audience will take one look at you and know that both you and they are fooling themselves.

We were thinking about our experience backstage at big shows, how every last detail of the performance is the responsibility of somebody, how it’s planned better than a military operation (whereas no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy, a rock show is a nightly battle where the outcome is guaranteed); is it possible, we thought, that there aren’t people back there whose job it is to make sure that the hair of the stars is not seen to its very best advantage, even if that means outright fakery?

We decided that was unlikely, particularly since we’ve been watching the hairlines of the stars of the sixties and seventies recede, halt and then mysteriously advance again.

And now that I’ve just read that Francois Hollande, the French President, put his ownhairdresser on staff, at a cost to the taxpayer of ten thousand Euros a month, I’m even more convinced that there has to be an entire army of colorists, camouflage experts, blow driers and titivators employed to keep us from seeing the uncovered domes of those we are pleased to call rock heroes.


After all rock, like football management, is a business that’s about one thing above all. Hair.

Monday, July 11, 2016

There is no such thing as a piece of entertainment that's too short



Good line from Alec Baldwin's "Here's The Thing" interview with former Disney boss Michael Eisner. Now that Eisner doesn't run a studio any more he can be a lot franker than he would have been back in the day. Talking about one former boss, he recalls hearing that he'd died and his partner saying "I hope it was painful". Pressed to name one of the movies he produced that he's particularly proud of, he can't get past the feelings he had at the time. "The first time you see a movie and it starts well, all you're hoping is it's going to end quickly."

Boy, I sympathise with that point of view. If something's going well, my instinct is to wrap it up as soon as possible, before it overstays its welcome. The minute you think, this is going OK, it's about to be not OK. If only rock stars and film directors were capable of recognising this feeling.

The recent death of Michael Cimino reminded me that his original cut of "Heaven't Gate" was five and a half hours long. He apologised, saying he could take fifteen minutes out of it. What was he thinking?

I was talking to an old friend last week and we agreed that as you get older you're more inclined to find that everything goes on too long and we decided there is literally no piece of entertainment about which you would say, "I could have done with another half an hour of that."

Saturday, July 02, 2016

This is why Jeremy Deller's We Are Here project was so powerful


Remembrance isn't a competitive sport, obviously, but yesterday the news media gave too much play to the Thiepval ceremony to mark 100 years since the first day of the Somme and not enough to the astounding Jeremy Deller initiative We are here in which thousands of volunteers, dressed as members of Kitchener's Army, stood around in stations and public places up and down the country as though it were a hundred years earlier and they were waiting to embark.

If anyone asked what they were doing there they silently handed out a card bearing the name of the soldier they were, as the kids would say, "representing", all of whom died on July 1st 1916.

It wasn't just a dazzling piece of theatre and a great logistical feat. It was also a powerful reminder of the thing that strikes me every time I go to one of those cemeteries in northern France and Belgium and read the little books of remembrance in which are listed the home addresses of the dead.

The Vicarage.

Gasworks Street.

Glebe Cottage.

The Old Kent Road.

They were us.

Friday, July 01, 2016

The reporter on the spot seems to know slightly less than we do

I have the 24 hour news channels on in the background at the moment. I have Twitter on in the foreground.

It feels to me as if the old news standby, the man on the spot, knows less and less. That's mainly because he's the man on the spot.

If he's the man on the spot, struggling for a place to set up his cameras, putting all his effort into getting people to agree to being interviewed, haggling with his masters back in the studio about when they're going to come to him, fiddling with his earpiece and straightening his tie, he misses the story, which is off and running on social media like a glinting fish and will have scarpered by the time he's found the next place to park his van and unpack his equipment.

Yesterday morning I felt more informed than the man on the spot. Robert Peston had tweeted mid-morning that Boris Johnson may have been putting back his press conference, which suggested something was up. Then Matthew Parris was on Five Live. When asked what he thought Boris was going to announce he said, with the assurance of an old pol, "oh, this Gove announcement has finished him."

 As soon as he'd said that the press conference started. Ten minutes later we found out how right he had been. The man on the spot looked shocked. I felt quite smug.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Seven thoughts on the morning of yet another England football failure


  1. All this talk about "humiliation" is no help to anyone. England lost a football match. As the young Boris Becker pointed out all those years ago, "nobody died."
  2. I don't buy the idea that England footballers don't try. Very often they try too hard. What matters is trying effectively
  3. And it's nothing to do with how much they're paid either.
  4. Our best players play at a the top level, but generally alongside players from overseas who are technically better and can deal with pressure for them. As soon as things go wrong for an England team you can see the fear in their eyes.
  5. When the England rugby team won the World Cup in 2003 Martin Johnson was the captain but they had another four "officers" on the field who could have done his job. That's what you need to win in any team sport.
  6. Iceland are a good team unencumbered by expectation whereas England are a fragile team saddled with mad levels of expectation.
  7. The next England manager should do just one press conference a year.