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Monday, February 26, 2007

Dawn is not white

Looks as if the days of Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, Aaron Sorkin's post-West Wing series about a network comedy show, are numbered. Thus we may never get to see it in the UK. (Not, at least, legally.) You can see how it might have been a bit far up its own fundament for the mass audience but it's not without its charm. Just outside the charmed circle of the main cast (left) our own Lucy Davies did her usual sterling turn as an expat member of the writing team. "Is that a white thing?" asks an African-American staffer. "I'm not white," she says. "I'm English." Another good line: "Bad publicity's like sea sickness. You think you're going to die and everybody else just thinks it's funny."

Media Guardian

Here's today's Guardian column regarding recent magazine ABC figures,

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Not like you and me

This piece by Dominick Dunne in the new Vanity Fair describing the time he attempted to produce a film with Elizabeth Taylor in 1973 sheds some light on the strange way stars behave and think. Taylor was with Richard Burton at the time. "At one point, Richard imagined an affair between Elizabeth and Helmut Berger that didn't exist. There was a terrible scene, excruciating for all of us, with screaming and tears, during a lunch break at a chalet on the top of a mountain. Their lives were so public that even when they fought in private Larry Peerce and I were often called into their suite to be witnesses. We never knew what to say, we were so embarrassed, but they weren't embarrassed at all."
There's some rather pompous talk in the papers this weekend about how the current travails of Britney Spears would be better if the papers would leave her alone. The truth is that for a star there is nothing more terrifying than the idea of being alone. They crave an audience in a way most of us will never understand.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Dressing up for a fight

Story from yesterday's Guardian about American troops coming up against gunmen in Baquba. The soldier taking aim appears to have a cigar jammed in his teeth, which doesn't't help knock down our key prejudice about American troops – they watch too much TV. I'm sure they're all equally brave but there's something about military chic which I find slightly disturbing. I set great store by the fact that Britain is the only country in the world where nobody joins the police because they have a cool uniform. It's also the only place where officers of the law don't generally address you from behind mirrored shades.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Rising in the East

There's a new generation of Indian Restaurants springing up all over London suburbs. I guess these are run by the children of the people who came over here from the sub-continent. Instead of flock wallpaper and gilt these tend to be spare and clean in appearance, a bit like Covent Garden watering holes. But the interesting thing is they call themselves Bangla Deshi restaurants, which is the truth that in the past didn't dare speak its name. Of the 8,500 Indian restaurants in the UK, 7,200 are Bengali and the overwhelming majority of these are from a region of Bangla Desh called Sylhet.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

"It's night time in the city"

The Bob Dylan Theme Time Radio Hour business is truly rum. I understand why Sirius signed him up in the States – to lure people to their satellite service instead of XM. (Having spent like drunken sailors the services are now being forced to merge so we'll have to see how long this goes on.) I understand why he did it – they paid him a lot of money. I don't understand how the programmes come together. He might like to give the idea of some lone wolf deejay holed up in the middle of the night like Wolfman Jack in American Grafitti, but this is clearly the most produced bit of music radio on any airwaves anywhere. I don't believe he picks the music. I think he approves the policy but broadly it's put together by somebody else and he reads the links, most of which are so prosaic they'd be considered a little bland on Heart FM. What makes them interesting is his over-enunciated delivery (he plays with words for his own amusement just like he does with his own songs)and the arcane way he says things like "this was made in 1940 and 6". But because it's Bob Dylan, Radio Two blow half their programme budget buying it in and it ends up on 6Music. Now if you went to either of these services and told them you wanted to play Arthur Prysock, The Dixie Hummingbirds, the Skillet Lickers or Uncle Dave Macon, wouldn't they call security and have you thrown out of the building?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

"Enjoying your meal?"

Annual gossipfest lunch yesterday with Neil Tennant and Mark Ellen with much talk of "The Queen". Apparently somebody offered Her Maj a copy of the DVD recently and it turns out Buckingham Palace only has a VHS player. Neil says that according to a picture he's seen they've got convector heaters as well. Have been fantasising about this huge palace packed with slightly out of date household kit: Bush transistor radios, pedal bins, elephants' foot umbrella stands, those ashtrays that used to be on metal poles, radiograms....The waiter was hovering when Neil said "At Elton and David's wedding David Walliams asked Prince Andrew if his mother ever watched Little Britain." The waiter looked up and said "I'm not going to finish cleaning this table till you finish this story."

Saturday, February 17, 2007

How much does it cost if it's free?

The Sunday Express tomorrow morning comes with something called Culture Club's Greatest Hits. It's actually a live recording but it's free so nobody will be that bothered. Earlier this week somebody was telling me about the extraordinary windfalls currently being netted by acts who have access to their own live recordings. The big newspapers know CDs can give their circulations a temporary advantage over their competitors and they'll pay handsomely. They just need something which has got some familiar songs that they can use on the TV ad. Apparently acts like Madness have made small fortunes out of leasing live versions of their material to what used to be called "Fleet Street" in this fashion.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Shakespeare - still quite good

This evening I finished reading Chance Witness, the memoirs of Matthew Parris, which is the most page turning political/media memoir I've ever encountered.
The prologue to the final chapter is a quote from Henry V which I don't remember reading before:
"A good leg will fall, a straight back will stoop. a black beard will turn white, a curled pate will grow bald, a fair face will wither, a full eye will wax hollow, but a good heart, Kate, is the sun and the moon: or rather, the sun and not the moon; for it shines bright, and never changes, but keeps his course truly."
Put the name "Kate" in any sentence and somehow it sings. And, to be fair, that's a bit more than a sentence.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Letting the strainer take the strain

Betty's is the name of a small chain of high-end tea shops situated in various Yorkshire county towns. Ever since I can remember they've been a by-word for high quality tucker and service which steps straight out of Catherine Cookson novel. My mum worked as a cashier in the Leeds branch before the war and in later years would let slip how the girls who worked there had to move swiftly to evade the amorous attentions of the owner. Anyway, I'm delighted to note that the firm is going strong. We went to Betty's in York yesterday en famille and enjoyed a serene hour or so eating Welsh Rarebit, Yorkshire Fat Rascals and other specialities of the house. It's a priceless experience. And this is how you serve tea.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sign of the times

Is there anyone who really believes that David Cameron's electoral prospects will be damaged in any way by the stories about his having smoked dope at Eton? Certainly not the BBC reporters who are covering this story with the straightest faces they can muster or the guys in the newsrooms at Wapping and Osterley. Anyone who's gone through the public school system or the shallows of the media and not smoked dope at some point has probably been taking too much time off.

Friday, February 09, 2007

"You take the plane, I'll take the bus this time"

A British firm has bought the company that operates Greyhound buses, which is some kind of payback for the number of Premier League clubs that are being snapped up by Americans. I've never actually been on one, but thanks to the closing scenes of "Midnight Cowboy", Paul Simon's "America", Jonathan Richman's brilliant "You're Crazy For Taking The Bus" and innumerable other references to them in music, movies and books, I feel as if I have. Was it cheap flights that did for them?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

"Return to your homes"

This is the view from one of our windows this morning. According to the radio, the Highways Agency are saying "don't take your car unless your journey is absolutely necessary." I'm all for cutting down on car use, but what does that sentence actually mean? Has the Chief Executive of the Highways Agency gone to work today? Or the Director General of the BBC? Or everybody in Whitehall? Or have they thought, no, I'll stay at home and work on line?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Death of a member

Here's a chilling story from the Times about the death of former MP Fiona James. I'm not one of those people who pile into radio phone-ins to accuse MPs of only being interested in lining their own pockets and building their own power bases. Most of them would be a lot richer and wield a good deal more power if they'd taken on a simpler job.

Having your picture taken

Spent yesterday driving Bryan Ferry around London. It's for a film for the Audi Digital Channel. Done one of these before. Curious experience. The two of you are in a car rigged with on-board cameras and you're following a special Land Rover with a revolving camera on the top such as they use to cover the horse racing. It's a great way to do an interview. Anyway, he wanted to drop in at Christie's in South Kensington to look at a painting. So we parked up outside. I noticed this guy lurking across the road talking on a phone. Ten minutes later Ferry came out and there was a quick succession of flashes from across the road as this guy, who was obviously a snapper, banged off a few unremarkable pictures of this bloke stepping into a car. "That's the only bad thing about living in London," Ferry said as we pulled away. "These guys hang around in vans in areas where they think they might see people." He'd obviously experienced it lots of times before but he looked ruffled as if he'd been harrassed. I have to say I don't blame him.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

"Aaaaw look...."

I think I've stumbled upon the opposite of the High Rise Terminal. That's where the speaker's intonation rises at the end of a sentence, leaving you with the impression that they haven't finished yet. It's been big with Australian youth for years now. It's all over "Neighbours". Anyway, there's a similar intonational tic widely employed by Australian sports people. Just heard Gary Richardson interviewing the Australian cricket coach Tom Moody and he did it. Moody's putting himself in the frame to be the next England coach and so while he was keen to put forward his credentials he didn't want to be seen to be edging out the incumbent. So when Richardson tried to get him to officially put his hat in the ring he instantly employs what I'm calling the "Magnanimous Modulation". It goes "aaaw look, Duncan's a great coach yadayadayada..."
The key notes are the prolonged falling intonation in the "aaaww" and the "let's get serious" edge of the "look". What he's actually saying is "now clearly I think I'm head and shoulders better than the competition because I've got more basic talent, I work harder, I'm ten times tougher and I am, in the end, Australian, but I never lose sight of the fact that my key virtue is modesty." Listen out for it next time you hear an Aussie giving a post-match interview.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Counting the cars on the New Jersey turnpike

Working on this Radio Four programme about things you can learn from pop record made me think about records that have been particularly good teachers.
I first heard "America" by Simon and Garfunkel in 1968. It was on their album Bookends. I got in when I was 17. I can remember looking at the cover in a pub on the outskirts of Wakefield and wondering “who’s this Richard Avedon who took the cover picture?”
“America” yielded the usual crop of new words. I think it was probably the first time I’d come across the expression “real estate”. It was certainly the first time I’d heard of Mrs Wagner’s pies. They stopped making them in 1969, apparently.
It’s about a love-struck couple taking a Greyhound bus trip north from Pittsburgh to New York, the last part of the journey being on the New Jersey Turnpike where they count the cars. Twenty years later I went on the New Jersey Turnpike with a car-full of guys all going “forty five, forty six, forty seven..”
Nowadays you would say it was a gap year song.
It contains one of those evocative place names that give American pop music such a head start.
Saginaw. Say after me. Saginaw.
But, this being Paul Simon, it has to change gears from personal to universal in the last verse, which brilliantly captures: the melancholy of travel (or am I the only one who feels this?) ; the great American quest to see where America (which is essentially a concept rather than a place) can be found.
So much American music is about what I call emotional geography, about going somewhere far away in order to feel differently. I can’t think of any American Literature class that could get that over more powerfully than this song does. I have heard it a thousand times and never get bored with it.
Despite being known primarily as a melody writer, Paul Simon’s best songs are all written around the percussion. (See "The Boxer", "Cecilia", "The Boy In The Bubble", "The Obvious Child" etc). Hal Blaine, the man who provides those rumbles just before the line “Kathy, I’m lost, I said, though I knew she was sleeping” also played the tattoo at the beginning of all those Phil Spector records.
And the name Cathy comes from a girlfriend he had when he was in England. She lived in Brentwood, Essex, she appeared on the cover of his first solo album, and he still keeps in touch with her today.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Is it just me?

Shelagh Fogerty, who presents Five Live's Breakfast show with Nicky Campbell, is a brilliant broadcaster. She's bright, well-informed, capable of hitting the humorous note and a terrific interviewer. She's not the only one on Five Live. The place is full of immensely talented people, many of them women. You wouldn't bat an eye if you passed any of them in the street. That doesn't have any effect on their ability to do their jobs. It's radio. But now we read Shelagh's taking a break and being replaced by Gabby Logan. Gabby Logan is a TV sports anchor, recently "poached" or "wooed" or brought over from ITV via some similarly meaningless verb, pictured above. Now call me a cynic....