Friday, August 31, 2007

The past is another country

Even when I've really enjoyed a book, there's still some relief when I get to the end. I immediately want to swap that book's world for another. But when I started reading Patrick Hamilton's novels last year I developed the opposite habit. As soon as one was finished I had to begin another. I think I may be heading for the same thing with Rosamond Lehmann, who was writing about aristocrats and bohos between the wars at about the same time as Hamilton was cruising the pubs of Fitzrovia. Jude recommended I read "The Weather In The Streets", which has been described as a precursor of "Bridget Jones's Diary", but without the calorific value. It's the story of a doomed extra-marital affair conducted across the gulf between the safely rich and the genteel poor. Although it was swept away before even I was born, the vanished world of trips in the motor, darned stockings, gas meters, gin parties, cups of hot bovril, signing the register as Mrs and Mrs Smith, abortionists in morning dress and Salzburg for the festival fairly pings off the page, as does its depiction of the unequal deposits the sexes invest in love. And it's a sequel so now I can read the back story. Can't wait.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Really Saying Something

Too many podcasts are either re-purposed radio or newspapers read aloud. Elvis Costello's the First Ten Years, is the best podcast I've heard since Danny Kelly stopped fronting his weekly football show for the Times. It's been done as a promotional series to accompany the reissue of his early albums. Elvis talks, possibly in response to an unheard interviewer, about what happened at each stage. There are short extracts from the music but it's mostly speech. Elvis is lucid, articulate and able to put over how it felt to enter the music business at a time of great change and slowly become a professional. He's at his best talking about the things it would never occur to an interviewer to ask. Things like music. His account of how the differing backgrounds of the members of the Attractions and his producer Nick Lowe came together to create early records like "Watching The Detectives" is the kind of thing that editors tend to red pencil for being too slow. The keyboard player Steve Naive was a 19 year old classical music student who was constantly wanting to play variations. Nick Lowe and Elvis, who were students of classic pop, had to keep steering him back to his first thought. You should hear it. Costs nothing.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Bullshit watch

Dandy editor Craig Graham said: "Following extensive research, we discovered The Dandy readers were struggling to schedule a weekly comic into their hectic lives. They just didn't have enough time. They're too busy gaming, surfing the net or watching TV, movies and DVDs."
As far as I can see most Dandy readers have just spent six weeks lying on the sofa staring glassily at a screen and occasionally stabbing at a remote control. At what point did this become the definition of a "hectic life"?

When in hole, stop digging

Here's a Miss Teen America contestant floundering badly while answering a question. I have some sympathy for her because she's so badly afflicted by nerves that she's just ploughing on with her sentence long after it has ceased to make sense. This is what broadcasting does to people. It explains why the key skill of a DJ is to be able to keep talking while thinking about something else entirely.

The inevitable Amy Winehouse post

Yesterday the media went back to work after its summer break. By lunchtime my phone was ringing off the hook with broadcasters wanting a comment on the Amy Winehouse situation. I sat in the BBC radio car in an Islington side street pontificating on "PM" about whether it was the record company's responsibility or not. It's not at the moment but it will be when she comes to make another record. Strikes me that the key problem Amy Winehouse has got - her and every other stage school brat - is that she's addicted to attention, the one commodity that 24 hour media is happy to provide. I watched her at close quarters at the BRITS. She wore three different dresses in ninety minutes. One to arrive in, one to walk through the audience in and a third to sing in. She was like the gauche girl who suddenly found herself at the centre of attention and didn't quite know how to handle it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Established 1962

Some of the papers are saying that the Rolling Stones tour that just finished was their last. Others are claiming that they will go on, if not for ever, then at least for a few years yet. It's possible that they'll quit the big campaigns. Maybe Charlie will lose the appetite for touring and they'll slowly slip off into legend, playing the odd big show when they feel like it.
The one thing I can't see them doing is announcing their retirement, for the simple reason that they never have done. Whatever the rest of the world thinks of them, their endurance makes them unique. They began in 1962 and 45 years later they are arguably the most popular live attraction on the planet. In that time they've never broken up or even had a trial separation. Can anyone else get anywhere near that?

Monday, August 27, 2007

The hippy of the remove

I'm grateful to Kat's Karavan for the chance to hear again John Peel presenting "Night Ride" in 1969. If memory serves, these shows, which were Radio Four's tentative foray into pop music and the alternative society, went out towards midnight. At the time I used to find them more interesting than his Top Gear shows. I seem to remember Peel blurting something about Robert Kennedy on "Night Ride" on the night he was murdered. This was the kind of thing that nobody did at the time.
This was the famous show where Peel shared his experience of having visited a VD clinic with the presenter of a health education programme. You should give it a listen if only to be acquainted with just what a young man from a posh background sounded like in those days. Peel, outrider for the love generation, sounds, if anything, slightly more buttoned-up and certainly more upper-class than the, presumably older, bloke who is presenting the programme.
This was before he flattened his vowels and began to speak through his nose. The intonation that he eventually developed, in an effort to shed some of his speech day enunciation, bridge the gap between himself and the grammar school boys who made up his burgeoning audience and also sound faintly West Coast, has shaped the way that all night time DJs have sounded ever since.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Apiary Japery

An old friend rang me up yesterday to pass on this story:
There's a man browsing in a record shop when he comes across a record called "The Sound Of Wasps".
He takes it to the counter and says "I'm one of the country's foremost authorities on wasps and I'd like to hear some of this if possible."
The manager says "fine" and puts it on track one.
"Buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz," goes the record.
The man listens for a bit, shakes his head and then says "can you put the next track on, please?"
The next track also goes "buzzzzzzzzzzzzz", albeit in a slightly different key.
The man shakes his head again. "I'm sorry, but to my trained ears they don't sound like wasps."
The manager looks at the record and then flips it over.
"I' do apologise. I was playing the bee side."

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Helping ourselves to the BBC

Between putting a few old adversaries back in their boxes and making it pretty clear he wasn't planning to move to Salford Quays, Jeremy Paxman made some good points in his lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival.
The licence fee will not last forever. The BBC can't do everything. The more they do the less scrutiny the individual bits get. The marriage of convenience between the news organisations and the political parties has eroded our faith in the institutions of government. It's all about money.
His plea was for the BBC to work out its priorities and to put more emphasis on what is delivers rather than how it delivers it. Because Paxman is a big old fashioned TV anchor, buried at the heart of his argument was a tacit assumption that TV news is of massive importance to our national well being and that we are all thirsting for the next award-winning TV hit, the next "Life On Earth" or "Bleak House".
I don't know about this. Here's my BBC diet nowadays.
BBC-1: only for football
BBC-2: rarely
BBC-3: Never
BBC-4: Lots
BBC News 24: hardly ever
Radio One: Never
Radio Two: Never
Radio Three: Never
Radio Four: All the time
Five Live: All weekend
Digital music stations - never
Local radio - never - all the time
So if the BBC ever does have to cut back to the core how does it decide what constitutes that core? It's no use justifying my licence fee on the basis of how much EastEnders it buys, how much of Jonathan Ross's salary it pays or how good it makes Newsnight, because I never watch any of them. I watch TV for maybe an hour a day and only by accident do I ever end up watching any of those things that TV executives spend their time worrying about. I'm a fringe TV user. That's just the way things are.
Although I concur with Paxman's view that the Corporation is besotted with pointless interactivity and "tell us what you think by text", money spent on making the BBC's material more available to me at the time I want it is money well spent as far as I'm concerned. And the medium I shall be using to access most of that material is the web. Which, as far as I'm concerned, Jeremy, is more interesting, congenial and ultimately more important than TV.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The interesting thing is....

Over at Andrew Collins's blog he's been bemoaning the superficiality of the BBC "British Film Forever" series. I caught fifteen minutes of their Stephen Fry 50th birthday film last night and felt much the same. Apart from the fact that it was the most blatant example of what our American cousins elegantly refer to us as the "circle jerk", it had been edited more for weight than light. The objective was to get as many well known faces as possible saying nice things about Stephen, regardless of whether they said anything interesting. Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, Ben Elton, Michael Sheen, Ronnie Corbett, Michael Parkinson, JK Rowling, the Prince Of Wales and numerous others each just about managed to get half a sentence out before the editor cut back to the clips. The heir to the throne percipiently pointed out that Stephen Fry did "lots of characters". Ronnie Corbett seemed on the point of saying something interesting about Fry's "way with hauteur" when he was cut off. I think this form of coitus interruptus is now endemic in clip show TV, exacerbated by the fact that they're using off-camera interviewers. Because we can never be allowed to hear their first question they never get to put the follow-up, which is always "in what way?"

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The man in the muddle

I have a theory that match commentators actually see and hear less than we do at home. How else to explain the hopeless performance of John Motson during tonight's England-Germany friendly? Fully ten minutes after we had all heard the comical sound of a few thousand Germans singing "Zere's only von team in Vembley", he suddenly said "is that German singing we hear"?

Bullshit Watch

"Skymag is designed with the ABC1 woman in mind," said the Sky director of communications, Christian Cull. "A typical reader is serious about her career and family, she is an avid TV fan with a passion for celebrity news, and is always looking for ways to improve her home and entertainment lifestyle." Pick any sentence and tell me precisely what it means. "Looking for ways to improve her entertainment lifestyle"? "Serious about her family"? "A passion for celebrity news"? This man just tapped out a load of buzzwords and then tried to arrange them into a sentence.
And while we're here does anyone share my deep rooted prejudice against the expression "mag"? In my experience it's only used by vicars, people in advertising agencies or newspaper publishers trying to get down with ver kids. At least one of which may be the case here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Hold the front page

First thing today I received an email from a PR. It was clearly sent to hundreds, if not thousands, of media contacts.
The opening line was a hoot. It read "I thought you would like to read these press releases."
I've been pondering the fatuousness of this thought ever since. The last time anybody in the media actually wanted to read a press release was back in the days when there was a fighting chance that the information contained therein had not already been published.
Think about it. If the same information has been sent to lots of other people at the same time then it is of no use to me. It has already been published (albeit to a load of journalists) and I will come to it in time via a multitude of different sources. I do not need the PR to send it to me. If it's interesting I'll find it.
However the very fact that a PR has sent it to means that it is probably not of any interest. This is on the grounds that news is anything that somebody somewhere doesn't wish you to read.
All over the world PRs are being paid to send out group emails containing information of little consequence, sometimes breathlessly tagged as embargoed until a certain date, most of which go straight into the waste bin.
It could be that I'm a unusually cynical old scrote but all of the hundreds of emails that arrive in my Inbox every day are deleted unread unless they are addressed to me personally and give the appearance of containing a message that is for me and me alone.
Presumably they're doing it because the very act of hitting the "send" button entitles them to assure their masters they've done something to earn their corn.
It can't go on.

Monday, August 20, 2007

All families have a secret

At the height of his celebrity and success, in the early 60s, the playwright Arthur Miller fathered a Down syndrome child. The baby was "put away" in a home and never mentioned in public, even in his much lauded autobiography "Time Bends". The new issue of Vanity Fair has an excellent feature by Suzanna Andrews telling the whole story of Miller and his son, who is now in his forties.
It could explain more about the motivations of celebrities and artists than any number of brow-furrowing profiles.

Must-not watch TV

Twice last night I was confronted with an expensive-looking trail for a new BBC show called "The Restaurant" in which a room full of actors threw food at each other. (You can see it at the link above if you want.) If you were trying to defend the BBC against charges that it no longer held the high ground on the broadcasting landscape you'd be a bit cross about this, wouldn't you?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Listen to this bit

I've become fascinated by the minutiae of Nick Lowe's recent songs, by the way he's managed to pare his writing back to the point where the songs seem like the sort of things that just arrived. "Hope For Us All" is typical. The TV director misses it but the key passage comes just after the instrumental at around three minutes when he simply slips in the word "feckless", doubles up the line and the confession just floods into the song.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Dear Bill...

We'd been pursuing Bill Deedes for Word to the Wise ever since Word launched. It had to be postponed for a variety of reasons, all of which were politely explained. Lord Deedes was not in the best of health. Lord Deedes was flying to some war-torn trouble spot to report for the Telegraph. And now it won't happen at all, which is a shame.
Deedes couldn't go to university in the thirties because his family lost all their money in the crash. He became a journalist instead and was packed off to the Abyssinian war at the age of 23. Like Richard Stott and Frank Johnson, who also died within the last year, he was a representative of that group of people who rose to become the editors of national newspapers without going to university. It's difficult to argue that they were any the less cultured as a consequence and the fact that they knew something about life beyond Soho and Westminster probably meant that they were better at their jobs.
The "edukashun-edukashun-edukashun" project means that even the guy writing the dog racing column for the Daily Star is probably a graduate now. I was recently told of the daughter of a friend who has just read English at Oxford and is now writing stories about weight loss for a weekly celebrity magazine. There would be nothing wrong in this if it wasn't her dream job.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

An Englishman abroad

The sad news of the death of Tony Wilson reaches me in my hammock in Brittany. Only about 18 months ago he and I spent the day driving around Manchester in a very expensive car filming an interview for the Audi Channel. I first met him in 1976 and he was never less than hugely entertaining company. On that day in Manchester we got a lot of mileage out of the fact that we were both born in the same year and as such we had, in pop music terms, the winning ticket in the lottery of life. And now he's gone. If the sun doesn't shine today I shall not be complaining.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The main drag

One of the interesting side effects of the ban on smoking in pubs is the kind of people it suddenly puts on the street. In Islington there has always been a tribe of hard core pub users who had organised their lives in such a way as to ensure that they never encountered the open air. One of the key characteristics of this group, apart from the Hogarthian mien that is the inevitable result of a life lived entirely in the dark, was the fact that they smoked more or less constantly. Since the change of the law they have had to swap their traditional habitat, in the darkest, least appealing, farthest reaches of the pub interior, for the unaccustomed glare of daylight and the carbon monoxide that passes in these parts for open air.
On the corner of Chapel Market is a pub which is an all-day refuge for those who do little else in life other than drink, smoke and bet on horses. These patrons have been abruptly extruded on to the previously unused benches outside where they now survey the passers-by with blinking puzzlement. It is clearly the first time they have clapped eyes on the workaday world and they appear dazed.
When I return from holiday the weather will no doubt have turned cold. I doubt this will make any difference. I'm confident they'll still be out there in December.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

That old pygmy timepiece gag

Today I sat in the garden and re-read Clive James's "Unreliable Memoirs", which was originally published in the early 80s. It remains one of the funniest and wisest books I've ever read.
It's also a reminder of the sad fact that in the last 25 years we have become more prudish as we've become more prurient. If a TV personality of today were to detail his adolescent sex life as minutely as James does his he'd run the risk of being accused of perversity.
Talking about the weekends he used to spend at the local swimming pool in his early teenage years in Australia, he says "I concentrated on the eternal values of the way a girl's nipples hardened against her will behind their veils of blue cotton, or the way the sweet skin of her thigh near the groin might be the vellum mounting for a single black hair like the escaped mainspring of a pygmy timepiece."
I shall now take a hammer to this keyboard.

Avoid at all costs

Last night I managed to clear the teenagers out of the room and get the TV to myself for long enough to watch "Black Book". I dearly wish I hadn't bothered. What a stupendously vulgar piece of tosh, like "Charlotte Gray" crossed with "Where Eagles Dare" with shades of Visconti's "The Damned", if you can imagine such a thing.
All the usual clich├ęs were in evidence: the microphone hidden behind the picture of the Nazi leader, the glamorous girls in stockings and suspenders pouring champagne down the throats of fat SS men, whole platoons of soldiers bursting into small rooms and letting fly with sub-machine guns, the hostages who are always about to be shot at dawn, the nice handsome German who lost his family in an air raid, resistance fighters in leather jackets and a Jewish girl who dyes her hair Jean Harlow blonde.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Is it just me....

...or is anybody else surprised by the fact that all the papers are leading on the fact that one of the gang just gaoled for murdering an 18 year old in Camden is one of Idi Amin's children? Are we not slightly more concerned about the fact that one kid was attacked by a 40-strong gang within sight of the tube station? Isn't this a really disturbing mutation of our obsession with celebrities?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

God Bless The World Wide Web


In the previous entry I said that the new Channel Four reality format, in which ten single mothers and their children live together, was called "Pramface Mansion". I now find this was incorrect.
It's BBC Three.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Dial S For Swizz

So Channel Four are dropping all their premium rate phone call competitions.
A worthier soul than I would say that they are merely reacting to the rising tide of public concern and putting a marker down for the inviolability of public trust and iron broadcasting standards.
But this particular worn-down heel thinks there can only be one reason why a company which is under pressure in the face of declining ad revenues and proliferating competition would choose to deny itself substantial revenues (which are presumably already written into its budget for the next year and which have previously been regarded as Money From Home).
That would be because somebody has done a little investigating and discovered that the things they've copped to so far are merely the t. of the i. and that for years they, or at least some of their independent producers, have been playing fast and loose with both the spirit and the letter of the code covering competitions. Since the recent revelations management can no longer pretend that this issue wasn't on their radar. Plus they know that if this blows up into a bigger scandal then:
  1. M'learned friends will start pleading the case of the poor saps who think that the best way to improve their lot in life is to pick up the phone to Richard and Judy - which could be expensive.
  2. The new PM will do what he is rumoured to wish to do - which is privatise Channel Four and deprive it of its public service figleaf.
P.S. Channel Four's effort to compose its features into a straight face and promise to turn over a new leaf will probably not be helped by the news that their new reality concept, in which ten single mothers and their offspring live together in one large community, is going to be called "Pramface Mansion". Oh yes.

Word Weekly 15

Brought to you in association with the Rolling Stones "Biggest Bang" DVD. Mark Ellen, David Hepworth and Paul Du Noyer discuss Charlie Watts's sock drawer, the least promising names for a rock star and the story of Van Morrison and the level crossing.