Here’s where Russell T Davies has been going wrong. Bailing out after three and a bit series? Pah! JNT was there for, well, forever! The reason? Shameless publicity stunts done on the cheap in the Television Centre car park!
TUG OF WAR
The money’s run out.
THINGS TO KNOW:
a) The title track off the eponymous album, it flopped as a single, reaching a staggering number 53 in October 1982.
b) It is, however, a candidate for the finest song Paul has come up with post-Beatles.
THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR:
a) Someone’s rung up Movietone or Getty and got a job lot of cheap footage hailing from between the wars.
a) George Martin, hard at work in the console room, sporting the obligatory smart shirt and occasionally enjoying a hearty chuckle with some colleagues.
b) Macca and missus fooling around like primary school kids during the instrumental break.
c) Paul tapping out the drum part during the “dancing to the beat” bit on George’s console.
d) Paul “playing” his guitar like it’s a violin during the coda.
e) The fact Paul looks younger here than he did during the entire 1970s.
VERDICT: You know you mustn’t grumble…
Aubrey Singer, whose death was announced today, was your archetypal old school BBC mandarin: stubborn, garrulous, indiscreet and decidedly eccentric, but was repeatedly unimpeachable thanks to the way he turned departments into fiefdoms, and could exact revenge upon his critics by spreading scurrilous gossip about them around the BBC club.
An epic 13-year reign at the head of the science and features department established Singer’s profile at the BBC, as had the flagship programmes – Tomorrow’s World, Horizon, Chronicle – he’d both coaxed and bullied the Corporation into making.
Another of those post-war recruits who’d started out serving time in the organisation’s lowest ranks before steadily climbing upwards, Singer was desperately ambitious, and it was a shameless stitch-up that got him into the dream job of BBC2 Controller in 1974: the newly-appointed Director of Programmes, Alasdair Milne, was one of Singer’s cronies and sweet-talked the Governors into ensuring his friend was handed the job without even an interview.
Singer ran BBC2 as if a High Commissioner of the Indian Empire, planning programmes in conspiratorial conversations behind closed doors before nipping out to a nearby restaurant to entertain high-flying celebrities and noted intellectuals to lavish five-course banquets. If he did invite someone from outside his tight circle of friends for an audience, it was more likely to demonstrate a new gadget he’d bought from his local electrical shop than to discuss ratings.
But there were plenty of hits: I, Claudius, Men of Ideas, The Body in Question, Inside Story, Arena, Newsday, Fawlty Towers, One Man and His Dog, Gardeners World, Face the Music and Six English Towns.
Still, all too often Singer’s personal obsessions bubbled over from being a healthy influence to a positive curse. He introduced the idea of BBC2 running thematic “seasons” of programmes, but then proceeded to dictate their content. The somewhat unwieldy and overbearing Russia Week and China Week ensued (reflecting Singer’s preoccupation with foreign travel), but worse of all was Opera Month: an endless stream of ponderous productions choking up the airwaves for hours every evening.
As much to keep the man quiet as anything else, in 1978 the new Director-General Ian Trethowan dispatched Singer to Broadcasting House in the unlikely guise of Managing Director of BBC Radio. He proceeded to sulk for four years in-between bungling attempts to reduce the number of BBC orchestras.
He frantically wanted a shot at being Director-General, and contrived to get the latest BBC Chairman, George Howard, to promise him the Managing Director of Television job the next time it came up. Sure enough when Alasdair Milne replaced Trethowan as DG and came to pick his new team, his choice of Bill Cotton for MD was overruled and Singer landed the post (plus the title of Deputy Director-General) instead.
Singer promptly converted his new office annexe into a gargantuan private dining room, from where he preferred to conduct all business with a select few over a generous quantity of port and cigars (“It’s not my personal dining room,” he would insist to junior colleagues, “I don’t want that appearing in Private Eye.”)
Milne ordered him to quit in early 1984 as the pair returned from a pheasant shoot. “It’s been a rum old year so far,” Singer reflected. “On January 1st I was awarded the CBE, on the 7th I was asked if I wanted early retirement, on the 23rd I was asked to act as Director-General for two weeks, and in February I pick up a newspaper to read what my plans are.”
Inevitably the severance deal was generous: Singer received £500,000 to launch his own company, which he cheekily titled White City Films, the name he knew the Beeb had planned for their own film offshoot. He was supposed to deliver a number of agreed projects, but after two documentaries on China and Vietnam he blew half of his funds on a show reel for a helicopter-borne history series that was too expensive to be commissioned. He remained boss of White City Films until 1994, then retired. His son, Adam, went on to run Flextech and Telewest.
Aubrey Singer, RIP; best remembered for stealing cigars from the BBC boardroom cabinet and nicking unopened whisky bottles from the BAFTAs.
It’s been a while since Sir John Major MP offered up one of his arcane utterances for public enjoyment, so it was a nice surprise to find him back on form in today’s Guardian, essaying an allusion for Tony Blair’s long handover to Gordon Brown that was as whimsical as it was incomprehensible. Namely, it’s proving to be “the longest farewell since Dame Nellie Melba quit the stage”.
Come again? When was the last time you heard anybody, let alone a public figure, and let alone an ex-Prime Minister, refer to Nellie Melba?
One of the few things it is genuinely possible to miss from the Major years is the regular materialisation of such verbal frippery in, usually, the most incongruous of places. Here are a few of Major’s greatest hits, all of which are impossible to reproduce without an exclamation mark.
“New age travellers? Not in this age! Not in any age!”
“When I was born my mother was was 47; my father was…surprised!”
“When your back is against the wall, it is time to turn round and start fighting!”
“People with vision usually do more harm than good!”
“It is time to put up or shut up!”
“A soundbite never buttered a parsnip!”
As alluded to in this week’s Digi-Cream Times mailout, the Radio Times has undergone a revamp and accompanying price rise.
In her indulgently-extended introductory column, Gill Hudson justifies the extra two pence by contesting “we still, however, represent the best value for money in the premium listings market.”
This is akin to Tony Blair arguing that, regardless of everything he’s done, he can still be considered the best Prime Minister of Britain to have been named Tony Blair. Or Elaine Paige’s Radio 2 Sunday lunchtime showtunes programme calling itself “the nation’s most listened-to showtunes programme”. Something being unique (in a quantitive sense) can’t be used as a justification in and of itself! What on earth is Gill talking about?!
Fortunately, once you remove that adhesive doobrey from the contents page, the residual gum means that when you next come to open your copy of Radio Times, Gill’s introduction remains stuck to the inside cover and you are carried straight over into the magazine proper.
As for the revamps, it’s hard to see in what ways your average denizen of the radio pages will benefit from the inclusion of scheduling information detailing when they can hear the likes of G Child, Twin B, Semtex and Xzibit on 1Xtra, even if they do promise “party flavas”. At least one reader, meanwhile, thought he’d never live to see the day when Hawksbee and Jacobs got their own billing.
In the TV pages, meanwhile, Gill has retained the most useless element (Today’s Choices, more often than not Today’s Programmes We Don’t Really Like But Are The Only Ones We Can Think Of Anything To Write About) but expanded the digital pages to the extent of giving the same amount of space to both BBC4 and ITV4, thereby implying some kind of parity of importance and quality between them.
Ah well. In time it’s probable all this will start to feel like the norm. But there have been a hell of a lot of revamps of RT recently, none of them self-evidently necessary nor demonstrably an improvement on the last.
Oh, and Alison Graham’s photo seems to have been replaced with that of a spinster in a smock who’s just stood in a pheasant poacher’s trap.
Not enough thought is going into solving what has become the annual Dr Who mid-season blues.
Simply dusting down an old monster costume (2005), ringing up Peter Kay (2006) or doing a few line drawings of Paul McGann (2007) is not good enough. No, a far more imaginative and enjoyable strategy suggests itself, something they’ve been doing in America for decades, but which – sadly – has never caught on here.
It is, of course, the clips show.
Ran out of ideas for your next script, Russell? Give us some of your greatest hits! Or rather – because that would make for a very short episode indeed – the other writers’ greatest hits! There’d be no shame whatsoever in running one, two or even three clip shows throughout a specially extended season, each told from a different person’s perspective (the Doctor, Martha, Kamelion) and packed with choice moments from adventures old and new.
“Don’t mind me,” Dr Who would chortle, looking up from his scrap book to notice that Rose and Tegan had just walked into the console room, “just taking a 750-year-old hike down memory lane!” At which point we’d hurtle off round the galaxy for a glittering catalogue of brusquely edited bon mots and excursionism, occasionally cutting back to the TARDIS to have someone proffer a useful bit of exposition (“Phew! I certainly won’t be listening to any ticking clocks again in a hurry!”).
Then at the end the credits could roll over a selection of Dr Who bloopers, during which someone would swear profusely, Russell T Davies would get caught on camera, and a Dalek head would pop open to reveal John Barrowman inside.
Forget the Doctor’s wife, or whatever this next episode is called; on with the clips!