Black Wednesday: The Movie

Monday 29th January 2007

An opportunity seems to be presenting itself for British acting talent to go on winning awards for ever, solely off the back of latterday dramatisations of historic talking points.

As such, clearly a successor project to The Queen is required as soon as possible. And the ideal scenario is surely a screen recreation of the events leading up to and surrounding Black Wednesday.

Heading the cast as John Major would be, of course, Peter Davidson: perfect for playing the put-upon open-faced everyman very much the victim of events and other people’s machinations. Norman Lamont would have to be somebody with a penchant for playing unlikeable buffoons; Warren Clarke seems the most agreeable option here. Michael Heseltine, meanwhile, would need to be a smooth charmer. In other words, Peter Egan.

As for supporting cast, Stephen Fry would make a suitably capricious Kenneth Clarke, Paula Wilcox could be Norma Major (recreating the screen partnership of Fiddlers Three) and David Tennant could fatten-up De Niro-style to play John Smith.

Finally there’d be a cameo from Kelvin McKenzie as himself for the bit where John Major rings him up and Kelvin informs him of how “I’ve got this big bucket of shit and I’m about to tip it all over your head.”


Slow, slow, quick quick slow

Sunday 28th January 2007

Hearing Blur’s ‘Sunday Sunday’ on the radio earlier today served as a reminder of how rare it is – still – to encounter singles that speed up and/or slow down in the middle. It’s even rarer for such tempo-tampering efforts to be a success; the boss of Blur’s record label boomed “you can’t have a hit single which speeds up in the middle”, and, in that particular brass-band-knees-up-shoutathon instance, he was right.

Nonetheless there have been a few others which have defied logic, convention and a nation’s preference for songs that stick in the same metre and preferably have a beat you can clap along with at the start of each bar like you see all those people in Union Jack plastic hats doing at the Last Night Of The Proms. In reverse order of ubiquity:

‘Dear Jessie’ is effortlessly proceeding on its graceful, charming, pink elephants-and-lemonade way before – yikes! It’s a bit of Viennese waltz whimsy, and you’re suddenly up and dancing round the room. “Close your eyes/sleepy head/Is it time/for your bed?” From back when Madge knew what a tune was and knew how to sing it.

“They said to me, Lionel, you can’t have a hit single which speeds up in the middle.” And they were wrong! ‘Say You, Say Me’ is unquestionably the man’s finest hour, not just for its nifty metre-mayhem (complete with weird electric guitar noodling) but also the only documented use of the word “masquerade” in an American chart topper, plus the classy video with Lionel conducting a battery of spotlights with his bare hands.

Is there nothing this man can’t do? Bend an ear to ‘Live And Let Die’, with not one, not two, but three different sections all in different times! Exhibit A: the moody, wistful opening bit with that “ever changing world” line that’s always getting folk in an online kerfuffle. Exhibit B: the howling madness that follows, replete with screaming sliding strings and Obligatory 007 Orchestral Hits. Exhibit C: blimey, it’s not only a spot of reggae funk! See also ‘Listen To What The Man Said’ which slows down right at the end for a bit of pedestrian sax-lead wigging out.

The section in ‘Come On Eileen’ where everything grinds to a halt, stops for breath then slowly winds itself up again. It’s the only bit in the song where you can actually understand the words and, as such, the only bit where, whenever and whatever the context it’s being played, everyone joins in.

You couldn’t call it unexpected. There are probably tons of examples on all those preposterously-titled 70s albums, but three obvious ones spring to mind: ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, with Fred doing a bit of stately crooning at the pianoforte both before and after the manic main action; ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, with a million and one time changes, all of them shameless; and ‘Flash’, chugging along nicely until – yup – Fred interrupts with his keyboard yet again to remind us how the titular tyke is “just a man, with a man’s courage”. Grrr – get back to the samples, dammit! “Dispatch Warlock and Ajax to bring back his body…”

Photo clippage #3

Thursday 25th January 2007

The most important man in light entertainment. And Noel Edmonds.

Palin’s progress

Wednesday 24th January 2007

The Beeb seemed to take on the guise of an absent-minded Charlie Drake-esque professor in the late 70s, putting things down then forgetting what it’d done with them or neglecting to look after previously cherished possessions only to find them gone astray when its back was turned. There’s a great entry in Michael Palin’s recently-published 1969-79 diaries which superbly sums up the whole state of affairs:

Thursday, June 29th 1978
…Drive through the rain to TV Centre. Terry Hughes disappears, and some time later, when we’ve finally got the BBC video machine to work (this takes four or five people, secretaries, window cleaners etc.), Terry emerges from Jimmy Gilbert’s office and, in an urgent whispered aside, tells us that Bruce Forsyth has just signed for ITV, and that Jimmy is in a state of utter confusion and trying to write a press release.”

Just a few months before Morecambe and Wise went missing, prompting nothing less than a emergency meeting of the Board of Governors, details of which have for some reason just been obtained by someone at the Independent who was clearly bored after the Christmas holiday. The highlight of these minutes is obviously when the BBC Chairman Michael Swann, in an unusually perceptive remark, wonders whether Eric’n’Ern had “perhaps passed their best?”

If you still haven’t done so, you’d be wise to invest in a copy of Palin’s magnificent tome. It’s the kind of size and weight that thankfully precludes you attempting to read it anywhere other than inside your own home in a large and comfortable chair positioned in good light and relative silence where you can give it the attention and respect it deserves. Plus it has entries like this:

Tuesday, April 14th 1970
At the BBC there was nowhere to park – the excuse being ‘Apollo 13’. In explanation of why ‘Apollo 13’ should be responsible for filling the BBC car park, Vic, the one-armed gateman, just said ‘Apollo 13’ in a way which brooked no argument.”

Horn of plenty

Monday 22nd January 2007

One of the new series announced as part of BBC4’s spring season received curiously little attention from the press. Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sax, But Were Afraid To Ask promises to unpick the cultural and sociological legacy of the modern descendant of the crumhorn through five thematically linked but structurally varied episodes adding up to a fascinating snapshot of one of the world’s most ubiquitous busking utensils.

Paul Gambuccini narrates a desperately earnest historical investigation into the inbuilt reticence within the UK subconsciousness towards parping horn sounds, illustrating his talk with extracts from 31,420 records out of his personal collection. “Now, come with me as we slide all the way back to the year nieensevenyfie, and bask in the slick sounds of that Atlantic-hopping disco-bopping ice cool connoisseur of the chilly Philly soul groove, Mr David Bowwwwwwiieeee!”

Episode 2: SAXUALITY
A laconic prose poem by Billy Bragg with music by Johnny Marr exploring Britain’s fickle relationship with people who decide to come out as saxophonists.

Episode 3: SAX CRIME (1984)
Paul Morley takes viewers on a journey back 23 years to the time of Holly Johnson and the Youth Training Scheme to examine particularly vicious assaults by saxophones upon the ears of a politically divided Britain. He traces the root of the strife to twelve months earlier and the release of ‘True’ by Spandau Ballet, whose saxophone break, he argues, heralded the impending discordant clash of ideologies between Arthur Scargill and the National Coal Board, despite having a good beat you could dance to. Morley concludes by placing an actor looking like Gary Kemp on trial for the collapse of the UK mining industry.

A portmanteau of intimate taped confessions, captured by an enigmatic free-living American, wherein objectionable neurotic upper class types disclose their penchant for the middle bit of ‘Arthur’s Theme’ by Christopher Cross.

Documentary following an attempt to broaden the youth appeal of the world’s oldest sports tournament by IOC President Jacques Rogge, who decides to use the 2008 Beijing games to introduce the ultimate in sonic competitiveness: a saxophone triathlon, requiring competitors to demonstrate sequential mastery of smooth, straight-blowing and swing styles while doing a croggy on a bike going down a 30 mile hill. Unfortunately both he and the documentary crew are unaware the entire proceedings are being secretly filmed and manipulated by a bored Leonard Rossiter, who in turn causes a global arms crisis when one of the contenders is caught on camera referring to another as having “a lazy eye”.

A JY Prog log

Saturday 20th January 2007

Over three decades ago now, the future BBC Director General and then MD of Radio Ian Trethowan accused Sir Jimmy Young of putting “forty percent effort” into his Radio 1 shows and challenged the housewives favourite to pull his finger out.

“You put the records on,” growled Trethowan, “then sit back and read the paper.” Somewhat slighted, Jim rose to the bait and declaimed from the Broadcasting House rooftop garden, “I want to be free to talk to anyone, anywhere, about anything, as long as my gut feeling tells me it will interest my listeners!” As we know, said gut feeling ultimately turned into a hip complaint, which subsequently shuttled him off air at the end of 2002. At the time, Creamguide paid tribute to the mobile commode ((C) T Wogan) maestro in a salute to what Ian Trethowan initially wanted to call The Jimmy Young Programme With Jimmy Young:

* The very first Jimmy Young Programme was broadcast on July 2nd 1973, and just two days later Jim had already acquitted himself to unsheathing life’s particularly delicate problems. “Is the most widely used method of contraception still the condom, Dr Smith?” Jim quizzed a visiting GP. “Do you by any chance mean the French letter?” came the doctor’s stern response, to which a weak-kneed Jim could only reply, “Erm, yes, I suppose I do.” “Well if you mean French letters, why don’t you say so,” snapped the Doctor. “I had learned that people don’t want to be ‘protected’ from the truth,” reflected a sadder but wiser Jim later.

* Jim decided to spend the show on Friday 23 November 1973 celebrating a particularly notable occasion. It was, of course, the first appearance by Uri Geller on the British airwaves. Jim has always made great play of the fact that Geller made his debut in this country on his show and not, as is always claimed, on the small screen. “In fact, we had already stopped Britain’s clocks and bent Britain’s forks many hours before television tried it, as Uri makes clear in his book My Story.” Sadly the object Jim utilised to secure this claim to fame was his chief researcher’s front door key, who was later arrested trying to climb into his flat via a balcony window.

* In January 1976 a witness giving evidence in Bedford Crown Court claimed he was sure he had spotted an accused man at the time he said he had because he’d heard a time check on Jim’s show. The defending barrister added, dryly, “And Jimmy Young is, as we know, extremely reliable at giving out the time.” “Who is Jimmy Young?” muttered the judge. Suffice to say it was headline news in the following morning’s Daily Mirror, which Jim quoted from at length during that day’s show. Several times.

* Jim had spy holes fitted to the front door of his house after a woman discharged herself from a nearby psychiatric hospital, marched round to Jimmy’s place, rang the bell and as he opened the door barged past announcing “I’ve come to stay with you and the children.” “Everyone seemed to think it was very funny,” snorted Jim later, “which it wasn’t. The general line was, ‘If she’d been eighteen and 36-24-36 I’ll bet we’d never have heard a peep out of you.‘”

* A listener called Charles Roberts appeared on the show to claim his tomato plants had grown to their impressive stature thanks to being exposed to Jim’s dulcet tones. Moreover, when the Programme wasn’t on the air the eponymous vegetation withered and died. “Just fancy,” Jim later quipped to the Sunday Mirror, “I’ve been talking to a load of sensitive adolescent tomatoes for months and I never knew.” A million readers responded: and the plants?

* In the old days when the “Prog” used to be on just after Wogan, Jim’s bantering and bartering with Tel supposedly even got Her Majesty tuning in. “Within a week we were discussing suspender belts; during week two, the merits of cammi-knickers as opposed to knickers with tight gussets.” The upshot was, naturally, a novelty single: ‘Two Heads Are Better Than One’, which, naturally, failed to chart.

* Jim had a very direct approach to dealing with his engineering team. On being repeatedly hailed “JIMMY – COME – OUT – HERE – NOW!” he simply “put down the key on my side of the glass and say, equally slowly and loudly, ‘ALAN – PLEASE – DON’T – BLOODY – SHOUT!‘” It never failed. “It never fails!” Thanks Jim.

* Lest we forget, Jim’s eye for the ladies did, at one point, become a topic of conversation amongst the largest population in the world. While attending one of BBC executive Aubrey Singer’s legendary receptions for Chinese dignitaries, Jim was accosted by one of the guests with a gag. “I know what you should call your show,” began the Chinese gentleman. “The current *affairs* of Jimmy Young!” How everyone laughed.

* Lastly, Jim was also one of the hosts of the first ever UK Telethon – on Thames Television – in 1980. Held at Wembley Conference Centre, the occasion was memorable for Jim leading his co-presenters Rolf Harris and Joan Shenton through the musical number ‘You gotta make those telephones ring’; Paul Daniels addressing a member of the audience “OK Sandra, you’ve got a lovely leg. What a pity about the other one too”; Petula Clark singing, “God bless the child who can stand up and sing”; and Rolf repeatedly accosting passing celebrities with the salutation, “Your blood’s worth bottling!” As Clive James wrote, “As for the handicapped children, they gain some of the means of life – but life in what kind of world? To do what? To watch Bernie Winters host a darts competition?”

Photo clippage #2

Thursday 18th January 2007

Ee gads!