Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Juande without you

Within a few weeks he'll be as eggy and fallible as all the other Spurs managers, but for now Juande Ramos arrives with a reputation for being a hard guy. He certainly looks the part.
And he comes preceded by a fantastic anecdote. In one of his previous jobs in Spain his team were leading 2-0 but he wasn't happy with the effort they were putting in.
So he took a man off. Didn't replace him. Just took a man off.
If that's not true I don't wish to know.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A night with the Establishment

I've done a little hobbing and nobbing in my time. Tonight's party for the birthday of "The Today Programme" was on a different scale.
Mark Ellen and I propped up the bar of the Royal Festival Hall's Skylon Lounge trying to work out which ones were the great and which ones merely the good. We decided the great are the ones with the bushy eyebrows.
An actual bishop engaged me in light banter after John Humphreys' speech. Geoffrey Howe still looks like a teddy bear. Ken Livingstone looks remarkably sleek. As does Norman Fowler. Charles Kennedy doesn't even accept a glass anymore for fear that people will start speculating about what's in it. Anna Ford is a fox - and she knows it. Floella Benjamin was there. And Desmond Lynam.
Why were Mark and I invited? "Opinion formers", apparently. Oh.
The big story on this morning's programme had been about the government's less than perfect grip on the numbers of foreign workers in the country. The tall, beautiful girls working the room with their bottles of wine and things on sticks were pretty much all East European.
Never has an elephant in a room been quite so attractive.

How tickled I was

Anthony Clare, whose death at the age of 64 has been announced, used to present "In The Psychiatrist's Chair" for Radio Four. One of his on-air "patients" was Ken Dodd. This was not long after he'd undergone an investigation for tax evasion. You knew the question was going to come eventually.
Clare: "I want to talk to you about money."
Doddy: (without missing a beat) "Why? Have you got some?"

Monday, October 29, 2007

"Do you like Demis Roussos, Sue?"

Last night's thirtieth anniversary documentary "All About Abigail's Party" threw light on lots of the reasons for its success, not least the fact that it was shown on BBC during an ITV strike and therefore drew a disproportionate share of the audience.
What it didn't probe is how the hell actresses step on stages everywhere from Stevenage to Sao Paolo and attempt to fill the agonising shoes of Alison Steadman in the role of Beverly. You could just about play Lady Bracknell without thinking of Edith Evans and maybe put Marlon Brando out of your mind while mounting a production of "On The Waterfront", but how you could speak a single line of Beverly's dialogue in "Abigail's Party" without adopting Steadman's threatening, nasal voice, without bobbing your head in that suggestive, wife-swapping way and without carrying your shoulders like a quarterback is beyond me.
"Definitive" doesn't begin to cover it.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

By Milton Keynes Parkway I Sat Down And Wept

My family were always members of the AA. When their motorcycle patrolmen passed they would see our badge and salute. I would salute back. Great excitement.
Last night on the way back from the airport we had a blow-out on the A1 so I called the AA out. I have paid my subs every year since I was 17 and have never had cause to regret it. Nowadays the system works even better because mobile phones mean they can get back to you and tell you how long help is going to be.
I've always had the theory that AA men have a great job because people are always pleased to see them. A few years ago I met a retired AA man in a ferry queue in the Western Isles and expounded my theory to him. He wasn't so sure. He'd taken early retirement after years working the M1 in South Yorkshire. One day he'd had a nervous breakdown at the side of the road. Just collapsed into tears in the middle of a job.
Standing by the A1 (M) for half an hour last night just a few feet away from millions of tons of speeding metal - in the same week that a couple of children were killed trying to cross a motorway - I have to confess to some sympathy. Once you're out of your car and standing there looking at it, motorway traffic shows us at our maddest and most malign.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Early morning music

This is the last Sunday morning when we'll wake up to sunshine, I suppose.
I find myself on the wavelength of John Martyn, or at least John Martyn in the mid-70s. I put on "Sunday's Child" with its wonderfully rounded version of the traditional song "Spencer The Rover", the man who had become "much reduced and caused great confusion" and as a consequence took to the roads.
Then I found this impeccable (apart from the wrong note in the introduction) performance from 1977.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The meaning of sport

When Danny Blanchflower was working as a football pundit, somebody asked him who was going to win the match.
"I don't know," he said. "That's why they're playing the game."
Banal or the only worthwhile you can ever say about sport?
You play the game to find out who wins the game.
South Africa are a better team than England. Even England believe that.
But that didn't mean that tonight wasn't, in the words of Wellington, "a damned close run thing."
And I still think this was a try.

Live Aid and false memory syndrome

I see that Freeview have compiled a list of people's most memorable TV moments.
The collapse of the twin towers comes top, ahead of the moon landings and Diana's funeral. At number five is Bob Geldof asking people to "give us your fucking money" during Live Aid.
It really is remarkable that this event looms so large in people's memories because it never happened. I know because I was there. Let me take this opportunity to place on record the true facts.
Geldof wanted Live Aid to be a fundraiser. The BBC didn't. There were details of how you could give money. You could send it by post, you could pay at a Post Office or you could ring up and pledge a donation. The captions came up in that order: address, PO details, phone number.
I was anchoring that part of the broadcast, up in the boiling hot perspex box in the roof of Wembley, and, following one of Geldof's finger-pointing rants, went to the appeals procedure.
"Here's the address," I said.
"Fuck the address," he said. That was quite a moment.
I've never looked at a tape of that incident since the day but I was amazed to watch the "give us your fucking money" myth blossom. People who had watched it told me with great certainty what had happened, as did people who hadn't.
When Mark Ellen was preparing a 20th anniversary piece for Word he spent a day going through a tape of the whole thing. I asked him to let me know what Geldof had actually said.
"Fuck the address," he reported back.
I was relieved that it was the world that was deluding itself and not me.
I was thinking about this this week when weatherman Michael Fish was on BBC News24 explaining the real story of his notorious hurricane forecast. It turns out that the hurricane he was referring to was a tropical cyclone in the West Atlantic. He told his story but you could tell from the expression on the interviewers face that they weren't remotely interested in the disappointing truth.
Every time I read somebody's memoirs or hear about somebody giving evidence in a courtroom about events that took place many years earlier, my thoughts turn to Live Aid and the things we are capable of "remembering".

Friday, October 19, 2007

The great Alan Coren

The sad news of the death of Alan Coren gives me an excuse to trot out the story behind his 1975 book "Golfing For Cats". This was so called because Coren was told by his publishers that only three kinds of books sold: those about golf, pets and Nazis.
Hence the cover.

All Things Must Pass

Continuing my efforts to stay ahead of the curve, I watched "The Departed" last night. This very cleverly plotted film about Boston gangsters and undercover police is another of those contemporary stories that simply doesn't work without the mobile phone and the web. Obviously, the introduction of this technology has liberated screenwriters to devise scenes in which people can interact without being in the same space. Conversations can be engineered between any two characters at any point and the plot clipped along accordingly. At the moment this is all thrillingly new. I wonder how it will all look in ten years time when none of this is novel anymore. Maybe we'll just watch round it like we do when we see films from the 50s like "The Blue Lamp" and "The Lavender Hill Mob", which were equally delighted by the possibilities of the then new-fangled police radio car.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Negotiation and the BBC

The argument for Jonathan Ross's £18 million is "you've got to pay the best for top talent".
It's not as simple as that. If Jonathan Ross had really wanted to go to ITV he would have gone. But, like anyone with any self-respect wishing to do a decent job in decent circumstances and not have it all chopped up with ads, he didn't. Natasha Kaplinsky has just gone to Five for a million. Best of luck. She took the money and the risk is she may not be heard of again.Personally, I don't care whether any of these people go or not. Nor do the British public. There's an endless supply of TV talent. The BBC holds all the cards in these negotiations because, even in reduced circumstances, it's got the only train set worth having. If you want to play with it, if you want to have a nice radio show and get rowed into the heart warming Christmas special and be on the cover of the Radio Times, this is the only place to be.
Broadcasting is not a level playing field in this country. That has its disadvantages. The fact that you get to call the bluff of a few over-confident agents is one of its glorious upsides.
Does anybody remember a bloke called Desmond Lynam? Great broadcaster. Iredeemably tarnished by ITV. Last seen selling Setanta in the back of a burger van.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Distance no object

I'm fascinated by the march of technology and the Death of Distance in all its manifestations. A couple of weeks ago my son took part in the Great North Run. Within ten minutes of his having crossed the finish line I could look on the race's site and see his time and position. Within a day I could follow a link to see souvenir pictures of him in the race. You put in his race number and up popped seven shots, taken at different points in the race.
They were doing this for 50,000 runners. Logistically it's a staggering job.
Obviously, as a proud father, I ordered pictures. Give them your credit card details and you could immediately download low and high-res versions from their site. But that's not all. They then send you the picture files on a disc.
They just arrived.
From Hamilton, New Zealand.
12,000 miles away.

Monday, October 15, 2007


The best thing on Radio Four at the moment is Genius. It's presented by the estimable Dave Gorman and involves members of the public proposing strange ideas - summer clothes for Goths, running the House Of Commons along the lines of Just A Minute, hooking up gym equipment to run the National Grid – to a celebrity panelist. Last week's, in which a bloke tried to sell Germaine Greer on the idea that his wife should be compelled to make him a hot pudding three nights a week, had me laughing out loud at the traffic lights on the North Circular.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Welcome to wherever you are

Yesterday I got to go to Wembley for the first time. Our visit was club class thanks to Peter's kind hospitality. Lots of salmon and white wine and uniformed young ladies calling you "sir".
From inside the place looks like an airport, particularly in the posh bits. The old Wembley used to smell of beer and urine. The new one smells like the world's biggest McDonald's. The seats are surprisingly comfortable and the sight lines are excellent but once you're inside you can no longer see its only interesting architectural feature, the arch. The old place was unlovely but whenever you see footage or stills shot there you knew immediately what you were looking at.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Oh Happy Day

An everyday story of country folk

A friend of mine lives in a hamlet of about twelve houses somewhere in the East Midlands. Most of the properties are period conversions. There is one larger house which was built in the 70s. With its seven bedrooms, electric gates and swimming pool, it's the kind of place a middling Premiership player might have found appealing.
The neighbours recently noted that it had been taken over by some burly gentlemen who seemed to be Eastern European. Then they began to see an influx of blonde girls in short skirts and high heels.
Not surprisingly, the neighbours gathered and pooled their information. It turned out that there was also a website advertising the services being offered at this very property and drop-down menus that enabled potential clients to choose the girl they would like to see dispensing them.
Clearly they are taking steps.
But here's what I wonder. How come we are expected to believe in the quite congenial, and shamelessly fictional life portrayed by Billie Piper in The Secret Diary of A Call Girl and yet if I were to propose a story based around events actually taking place in one genuine English village in 2007 to the writers of The Archers I would probably be accused of taking liberties?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Is three pints enough?

England's cricket team have just won a one-day series in Sri Lanka, which is the first win in the sub-continent since God was a boy. Asked if they were going to be celebrating, Paul Collingwood, still smarting from being caught in a lap-dancing club, said they now had a "three-pint rule".
Opinion on 5 Live was divided. Is a mere three pints self-denial only previously seen among the Amish or actually Quite Sufficient?
Obviously, were this the Pakistani team this wouldn't be happening at all and I don't see the West Indian or Indian teams feeling they hadn't marked the occasion properly if nobody had wound up rat-arsed in a drifting pedalo. I can't believe the Australians or the South Africans feel that every celebration calls for a headfirst dive into oblivion. It would be nice if the England team felt the same way. It's not the drinking in this country. The French and Italians do far more actual drinking. No, it's the desperate need to get Out Of It.
These days my calculations about beer intake tend to relate to the length of the Tube journey which is to follow. Which would make three pints more than enough.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A site better

The new Word Magazine site is unveiled today. It's a lot airier and more flexible and you can post your own topics. Please go and have a look.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Brief Encounter

Coming out of the station this evening I was confronted by a young man coming the other way. Track suit. Hood up. I know you have the picture. There was limited room between a lamp post and a parked car and for some reason I didn't let him through first. Consequently he had to check his step for about a third of a second. I could see he had made a comment. I took off my headphones and said "I'm sorry?"
He turned and said, with some venom, "watch where you're fucking going!" He didn't mutter it. I've rarely been talked to in a more aggressive manner.
I wasn't going to start a fight. He would have killed me. I was surprised but I managed to smile and say "very nice to meet you".
He went off. It didn't go any further.
What could possess a young guy to front up like that against a middle-aged commuter in a suit? How angry is he and about what? If he can get that cross about having to check his step, in an incident that involved no physical contact whatsoever, how is he going to deal with the other small frustrations that life will put in his way? How will he react to a baby who won't sleep?

Hannah Montana, Led Zep and the madness of crowds

In the states district attorneys are getting involved in the controversy over tickets to see Disney teen star Hannah Montana. There's dark talk of software that can jump Ticketmaster's digital queues and lots of articulate middle class mothers who are determined to satisfy their desperate daughters and are not going to be fobbed of with talk of supply and demand. As head teachers and hotel managers all over the world have the scars to attest, these people have a habit of getting what they want and in this case they're not above picking up the phone to local officials.
Meanwhile, closer to home, Harvey Goldsmith is at daggers-drawn with eBay over the resale of Led Zeppelin tickets, which are being advertised at ten times their face value. The government meanwhile blandly holds to the view that pretty much anything that can be bought can also be sold, which sounds about right. In the past these were the kind of problems you only came up against when you camped outside Earls Court. These people didn't have credit cards and rarely got indignant. When they didn't get what wanted they muttered "bummer" and went to the pub. But now they hold the reins of the economy in their hands, they feel very differently and the audience for live rock and roll has grown from a passionate minority to an hysterical majority.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

God Bless The World Wide Web

During sporting tournaments like the World Cup this marvellous technology provides us with the not-t0-be-passed-up opportunity to see what the oppositions's media is saying before and after encounters like the Australia-England game.

Fame: still a cruel mistress

The new issue of Word contains a story about Colin Larkin, the author of the Encyclopaedia of Popular Music, which is in its 5th edition. I was most intrigued to see the list of acts who had been dropped from the previous editions to make room for the Arctic Monkeys and Amy Winehouses of today. This includes: Carmel, Curve, King, Menswear and the Godfathers among others. They've been dropped because it's been concluded that they were neither successful enough to be included for the sake of historical record nor good enough to have any prospect of being rediscovered by future generations. What's the opposite of the Hall of Fame?

Friday, October 05, 2007

Katherine the Great

I've blogged in the past about the fabulous Katherine Whitehorn's contribution to the TV documentary "A Widow's Tale". There's a marvellous extract from her autobiography in today's "Times" in which she's describing what it's like to face "the grey mudflats of the future" without her husband. Her writing should be required reading for all those millions of Sunday supplement columnists who came in her wake because there's not an inch of self-pity in her and she's frank enough to say she doesn't know how anyone gets through this without strong drink.

Get with it, Grandad

There's not much between the main parties in policy terms so it's mainly a battle about language. I note that David Cameron's speech this week used the expression "getting pissed" and promised that Gordon Brown's election campaign would involve a "dog whistle on immigration". This took them far enough in the polls to give them the nerve to accuse the PM of "bottling it". It's all very media macho and has the effect of making old Gordon look, well, old.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Happy Days

Word's running a story about people's experiences of working for record companies. I did a short stint working for Beserkley in 1977-8 and this is one of the few items of memorabilia I've been able to come up with. It's me and Greg Kihn snapped at a souped-up go-kart track in the Bay Area in 1978.
I made my first trips to the States at the time and Greg was kind enough to put me up and show me the Golden State. We met up again a few years back when he was over here recording his radio show, which goes out in San Jose. We've just been exchanging emails about musicians and colleagues from that time who have passed away. Which is amazing when you look at that picture.


Two offenses are committed in this short clip. The Celtic fan had no business running on the pitch or patting the Milan goalkeeper on the cheek. By the same token, the latter shouldn't have run energetically after him and then fallen down as if shot in the hope of getting the match extended. The fan will no doubt get a significant ban. What will the goalkeeper get for insulting the intelligence of millions and trying to deceive the officials?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

It's the economy, stupid

I don't know anything about the decline of kids' TV but I agree with Bob Wootton when he says that Ofcom's crackdown on advertising to kids hasn't helped. TV companies don't have much appetite for making kids' programmes at the best of times, but when they can no longer get their shows underwritten by the manufacturers of sweets, they soon give up altogether.
At the same time hardly a week goes by without another teenage magazine closing, their traditional room for manoeuvre restricted by the limited amount of advertising and the fact that the supermarkets watch them like hawks for any sign of risqué material, aware that if they don't some backbencher will be on the Today programme talking about moral decay.
In terms of both kids' TV and magazines the old world wasn't perfect but it was better than what's come in its place. The kids aren't missing anything, of course, because they're quite happy gawping at TMF rather than reading. If there's nothing in the "Grange Hill" line they'll just watch whatever their older brothers and sisters watch.
Despite the best efforts of government over the last ten years, you don't change people's behaviour from the top down. Something similar happened with school meals post-Jamie. Given the choice we often choose junk.

"It's all about the passion, innit"

There's an FA proposal to launch a pilot scheme where only team captains are allowed to speak to the referee. Some clown rang Five Live tonight and said - and I quote - "that kind of thing's fine in rugby because they're all upper class but football's all about passion...."
I will not sleep until I have counted the ways in which this is bollocks.
1. There is clearly no point trying to persuade fools like these that rugby union is, and always has been, played by a wider range of people than they think. So I won't.
2. But I would like to be standing by when they told Gareth Thomas or Lewis Moody that they didn't understand passion.
3. While clearly the England team are exclusively effete public school nances, you wouldn't say the same about the Welsh, let alone the Fijians or the Tongans or the Romanians, all of whom play by the same rules and observe the same conventions.
4. Rugby players constantly try to influence the ref - people like George Gregan are chattering to him all the time - but they never try to intimidate him. Martin Johnson never confronted a ref like John Terry does nearly every game.
5. Rugby League players, who are as rough-hewn as you like and could have the entire Premiership for breakfast, earrings and all, never argue with the ref because they're not allowed to. The same applies in most sports.
6. Arguing with football referees is a high level form of cheating. It's not done in the hope of changing his mind. It's done in the hope of getting the next decision.
7. It's orchestrated and sanctioned by managers and coaches at the very top of the game. If they want to stamp it out they just have to get half a dozen blokes in a room.
8. If you've ever watched a game of schoolboy football and seen how small children, with the active encouragement of their parents, copy this behaviour, you'll recognise that the day is not far off when the only people who will volunteer to referee football at any level will be those with the kind of personality disorders which ought to disqualify them.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

"Do you want a biscuit?"

This is an excellent programme about the relationship between age and creativity made for National Public Radio in the States. It features Nick Lowe whose new album is called "At My Age". And, via a tinny phone line, me.

"Tell us about Dame Edith Evans in the Dog & Duck"

Ned Sherrin had one great gift as a radio presenter. He never felt the need to pretend you were eavesdropping on a regular chat. Consequently when he presented "Loose Ends" on Radio Four there was none of that nervous laughter, conversational gear grinding and embarrassed "so anyways" that tends to characterise most radio chat. He knew he was there to get each guest to tell three stories. His job was to direct the traffic, making sure they got to the punch line in the most efficient way and staying out of their way as far as possible. And if they wouldn't tell the stories he'd do it himself.