Wednesday, April 09, 2014

I seem to be in the most repeated music documentary of our times

A  couple of years ago a TV producer called and asked me to be a talking head on a clip show he was making for BBC-4. The hook was they'd compiled a list of the most lucrative songs in the history of music publishing. Since TV producers don't believe their audience understands the word "lucrative" it ended up being called "The Richest Songs In The World", which is of course ridiculous because a song can't be rich.

When they sent me the list I couldn't see how they'd done their working out. Nobody has an accounting for the full life of a relatively recent song like "Yesterday", let alone "Happy Birthday", and if they did they wouldn't be sharing it with anyone. But in TV the commissioning editor gets what the commissioning editor orders. Therefore I turned up on the appointed day, made my comments on camera, invoiced for the agreed fee - which, believe me, wasn't much - and thought no more about it.

The programme, fronted by Mark Radcliffe, was first shown in December 2012. Then again. Then again. Then people started contacting me saying they'd caught it in the middle of the night on BBC-4. This morning I was looking for something else on the iPlayer and I see that last night they were showing it once more. It must be in double figures by now.

It's obviously one of those programmes that somebody has decided is ideal for just running and running. It's ninety minutes long, hence it uses up plenty of schedule. It's not got anything in it that might make you switch off. It's got "hey, Doris" appeal; most people will be interested to learn "Happy Birthday" is still in copyright. It's not likely to be superseded by subsequent events. They must have made sure that there's nothing in it which qualifies for repeat fees. I certainly don't.

It looks destined to follow me into decrepitude.


  1. Anonymous9:59 am

    It's been on by Sky + since it's original airing.
    I'll get round to it one day!

  2. They can milk it until the outcome of this case.

    Which of course is as long as the lawyers can milk the case.

  3. This reminds me of watching an episode of Eastenders (the shame!) when for a toddlers birthday party they bizarrely chorused "we wish you a merry birthday, we wish you a merry birthday, we wish you a merry birthday, we do" (i.e. simply substituting "Birthday" for "Christmas"). This is all apparent from the long reaching grasp of the royalties payable on Happy Birthday To You"!

  4. Anonymous2:53 pm

    Lee: I recall that whenever it was a character's birthday on Neighbours, they always used to sing For He/She's A Jolly Good Fellow, presumably for the same royalty-avoidance reasons.