Absent friends

Sunday 30th December 2007

It’s hard to recall a year like this, where so many stars of a particular generation passed away. Fate and misfortune robbed the world of a battery of celebrities who for many will always and only be associated with growing up. They were ubiquitous faces on the TV and voices on the radio during childhood and all the way through teenagehood. Folk that shaped, overtly and indirectly, your formative years. Bits of your own past, now gone forever.

Over there’s Mike Reid, leaning on shabby punchlines and propping up an equally grotty bar. Next to him is George Melly, his hat at a suitably rakish angle, spouting surrealist nonsense and hollering jazz. Holding forth with similar volume at a nearby table is Nigel Dempster, enthusiastically sharing a bit of gossip with Alan Coren. In an adjacent alcove sits Ned Sherrin, ruefully dispensing anecdotage of five decades’ vintage. Listening in is David Hatch, judiciously nodding in agreement and adding his own one-liners with aplomb. Magnus Magnusson interjects from time to time to correct the speakers’ grammar. Somewhere in the background, Ronnie Hazelhurst coaxes jewel-encrusted tunes from an upright piano.

Through the swing door and in the snug rests Ian Richardson, cooking up conspiracies and bringing down governments between sips of dry sherry. Gareth Hunt eavesdrops with awe. Lois Maxwell hangs on every word. Tony Wilson and Kevin Greening man the jukebox. Verity Lambert settles the bill. And by the window, in the fading light, Ingmar Bergman captures it all through a glass darkly.


Talking heads ’77

Friday 28th December 2007

The latest annual batch of secret papers declassified under the 30-Year Rule* makes, as ever, for great reading.

They always do, by virtue of being 30 years old in the first place, and for originally being considered so desperately important as to be hushed up for so long. But given we’re now deep into Cream territory, the revelations have that much more potency than those being released, say, 10 years ago, when all the talk was of mid-60s George Brown and gigatrons.

For one thing, this year’s dose, from 1977, reek of particular kinds of crises you just don’t get anymore; crises that threatened the way people went about their lives day to day, not abstract crises involving sub-prime mortgages and bluetongue disease.

Windscale, Grunwick, the Lib-Lab pact, sterling, prices (of course)… yup, Britain in the late 70s was a far more hands-on, gritty, grubby place, where the stuff they talked about in Parliament actually affected the cost of a loaf of bread or whether you’d be able to afford to fill the car with petrol before pay day.

Tony Benn pops up a few times, almost getting sacked, flogging reactors to the Middle East and refusing to switch on the spotlights outside London’s public buildings during the Jubilee because it wasted energy.

Again, you don’t get these kinds of folk anymore: career politicos, if you like, who don’t hold especially high ranking jobs but are in the Government and who become national talking points. Peter Shore, Merlyn Rees, Eric Varley, Albert Booth, Fred Mulley: all ministers, and all – you’d think – figures likely to provoke an instant reaction among the population at the time. Fast forward today and, well, the rest of this sentence writes itself.

Special mention for the obligatory would-you-credit-it story, this year involving Thatcher getting stuck in the loo. Still, at least for once she couldn’t go around blaming the cistern ((C) Janet Brown).

*Something that still sounds like a relic from a rejected Yes, Minister storyline.

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 24

Monday 24th December 2007

And a very merry Christmas to all of you at home…

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 23

Sunday 23rd December 2007

This month’s Word magazine contains ostensibly definitive inventories of both the best and worst Christmas songs of all time. But as usual Fairytale Of New York is in the wrong list.

Why this wretched dirge of a tune – “two drunks shouting”, in the words of Neil Tennant – repeatedly fails to not be nominated as one of greatest festive anthems ever is a mystery. You can’t hear the words. Both vocalists compete in a grisly battle to outdo each other in terms of ear-shredding histrionics. It was covered by Ronan Keating. And it goes on for about half an hour.

Where Word has got it right, though, is placing War Is Over* by Johnandyokonolennon in the ‘bad’ list. Nobody wants to be lectured at over a mince pie**.

*(No It Isn’t)
**Macca’s sublime Wonderful Christmastime, however, doesn’t make it into either chart, despite being effortlessly hummable, deceptively simple, and not having any choirs of kids or the missus wailing in the background.

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 22

Saturday 22nd December 2007

This is more like it: the official BBC group publicity shot for Christmas 1991, with everyone’s favourite Santa – Clive James – surrounded by a none-more-early-90s ensemble of Bill Owen, Alan Cumming, Ernie Wise, Mike Smith, Lenny Henry, Mike Reid, Kirsten Cooke, Carmen Silvera and Danniella Westbrook. “Please Santa, all I want for Christmas is…another joke about Yasmin Arafat.”

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 21

Friday 21st December 2007

A solitary question today. Where – precisely – does snow have to fall for it to be officially classed as a white Christmas in the United Kingdom?

The TV Cream Advent Calendar: Door 20

Thursday 20th December 2007

It’s more than high time for an appearance from Sir Bob Monkhouse:

December 1995
“What a peculiar year it’s been. Tory Party Chairman Brian Mawhinney had paint lobbed over him by protestors and was overcome with emulsion. During a flight to Saudi Arabia, BA managed to lose a coffin – it’s bad enough waiting at the carousel when your suitcase doesn’t come round. Liz Hurley announced her plans to star in an 007 James Bond spoof and there was a part for Hugh Grant, a sort of cross between Blofeld and Oddjob. That’s right, he’s called Oddfeld. And J. Howard Marshall died at the age of ninety. He was the multi-billionaire who was, for the last eighteen months of his life, married to the amply curved Anna Nicole Smith. The only man to die and leave heaven.”