I seem to have something in my eye

Thursday 28th February 2008

Inspired by a comment left by Steve Norgate on the post below, here’s a collection alternately wistful, melancholic, mournful and touching efforts that, providing you’re in the right mood, represent the five saddest TV title sequences ever made.

1) The Sweeney closing credits

2) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy opening

3) How We Used To Live

4) Taxi

5) Band Of Brothers


Also available on BBC Records

Monday 25th February 2008

Last night’s edition of Howard’s Way on BBC4, after climaxing with someone running in slow motion down a gangplank, slipping onto the wood and somehow contriving, in the next shot, to be sinking underwater, brought forth the reviving strains of the Simon May Orchestra wigging out to a disco beat.

It is, and forever will be, a superlative example of a TV theme whose opening is totally surpassed by its closing, wherein an epilogue of barnstorming proportions unfolds out of nothing before sinking back into the strains of the original melody.

Superlative, that is, along with these:

‘Allo ‘Allo. The beginning is just a boring accordion. The ending has all kinds of funny business going on with high octave strings and sashaying cymbals. Then again, as We Had Been Watching what felt like 257 people, some kind of extended instrumental variation was mandatory.

The Bill and EastEnders. Two you don’t hear anymore these days thanks to the need to speedupendcreditstothepointthatyoucantreallyreadanyofthematleastnotwithoutavideorecorderthatallowsyoutoviewprogrammesoneframeatatime. That twiddly bit, or middle eight, in The Bill closing theme – the section where the keyboards sped up faster and faster for no reason other than to sound brilliant – is sorely missed.

Miss Marple. The BBC/Joan Hickson vintage, that is. Given the final credits went on for hours, a set of instrumental extemporisations was once more obligatory, and once again it was lovely, in particular that call-and-response section between the low brass and the high woodwind, and then that tiny interlude of calm with the theme being played on a solitary harp, before the entire orchestra came bristling back in, parping to a halt.

Ever Decreasing Circles. The opening piano melody is sublime enough, but the closing section, recapping the theme before coming to rest in a quiet, plaintive, melancholy coda, is just wondrous.

A Bit Of Fry And Laurie. To be specific, the second series, the one which opened superbly enough – with Stephen and Hugh larking around central London – but closed even more spectacularly with a shot of a piano keyboard playing itself, with not two but four unseen hands dazzling their way through the finale from Carnival Of The Animals.

You Rang M’Lord. Anything that involves *still more* of Bob Monkhouse singing has to be a good thing.

Diving for dear life

Saturday 23rd February 2008

By way of an epilogue to this week’s mailout, here’s Elvis and co doing a heartbreaking version of Shipbuilding on…what exactly? Razzmatazz? The Tube? Wherever it is, there’s one hell of a noisy audience present. How come songs as beautiful and devastating as this don’t get in the charts anymore?

Photo clippage: BPI Awards special

Thursday 21st February 2008

A few snaps from last night’s bash:

1) Introducing the hardline according to Noel Edmonds

2) Una paloma wanker

3) “Pebble Mill was never like this”

4) It’s hip to be square (note requisite multi-coloured mid-80s backdrop)

5) And the award for the nation’s-most-listened-to-Cold-War-musical-based-on-an-allegory-of-a-parlour-game goes to…

Mouths almighty

Tuesday 19th February 2008

Past-it celebrities, forever patronisingly referred to as “veteran personalities” by press releases, have a tendency to throw money at vanity projects as a way of keeping their names in lights. Well, in the Radio Times radio pages.

Readers of this week’s edition will find a short question-and-answer feature with Dean Sullivan, the Danny La Rue of the dole office, sometime soap opera caricature Jimmy Corkhill but better known as The One Who Stayed Right To The Bitter End Of Brookside.

He’s promoting City Talk FM, a new radio station broadcasting in Liverpool but also – oh, spare the flattery – across the nation online. It seems Dean is a regular contributor to the network. Indeed, he has a slot every weekday afternoon.

Regardless of the fact somebody somewhere thought it was a good idea employing a person best known for portraying a fictional character and reading other people’s words to *be themselves* on radio, live, for three hours Monday-Friday, just look at the company Sullivan is keeping. They’re all there: Margi Clarke, Simon O’Brien, Ian St John, Brian Reade… not a professional DJ among them. Trisha Goddard is also involved for some reason, as are students from John Moores University (“if you want a flyer to get into Liquidation for just £3, drop us a text!”). Oh, and Michael Brandon.

An act of monumental, unlistenable folly, you just know all the budget will have been used up in six months time and one by one the “big names” will quietly disappear. The wonder is that Professor Redmond hasn’t got himself involved. Yet. Look out for a new show, Have Your Phil, turning up sometime mid-September, round about the time that everyone else has pissed off (except Dean Sullivan, naturally).

Frostie reception

Sunday 17th February 2008

BBC4 is bringing back The Frost Report for a one-off special at Easter.

It’s one of those ideas that sounds great in theory, but in practice will turn out to the kind of programme you tune into more out of duty rather than interest or excitement. Especially as the line-up is all too easy to envisage:

– Frostie shuffling into the studio looking more haggard than ever, plopping into a chair and launching hesistantly into one of those awful ‘topical’ routines, e.g. “In America, the Democrats bury their differences and turn to the one candidate behind whom the whole of the country can unite” (cut to photo of Tony Blair)

– A sketch with the Archbishop of Canterbury doing a speech where he says there’s room in Britain for some of the aspects of Sod’s Law

– A historical spoof with Napolean, Alexander the Great and Stalin discussing whether or not there should be a referendum regarding the EU Treaty

– Yet another recreation of that “I look down on him” class sketch, this time starring Stephen Merchant, Robert Webb and Alan Carr

– Tim Brooke Taylor doing a musical pastiche called ‘Move Over, Darling’ about the woes of the current Chancellor of the Exchequer

– Ronnie Corbett “sharing some memories” with Frostie in front of a strangely muted studio audience

– A video message from a grumpy-looking John Cleese where he swears a lot and pretends to be really pissed off with the whole idea of The Frost Report having ever existed

– A topical calypso about Northern Rock

– A final monologue from Frostie wherein he observes that the Prime Minister is looking to liven up the performance of his government by an injection of new, up-and-coming talent (cut to photo of Gordon Brown standing in Downing Street with Mrs Thatcher)

Wireless wise

Saturday 16th February 2008

Having no access to television does, perhaps inevitably, prompt you to spend a bit more time with the other things you hold dear in life. Like the radio.

Scanning the airwaves these last seven days with more purpose than usual has turned up the inevitable litany of finger-pointing, sticky-beaking, shit-stirring and rabble-rousing. But enough about Gardeners’ Question Time.

Brian Matthew seems to be back to full strength on Sounds Of The Sixties, though it’s no longer ‘Roger “The Vocalist” Bowman’ behind the glass but the dreaded ‘Phil “The Collector” Swern’, erstwhile bagman for Dale Winton on Pick Of The Pops. Precisely what he’s collecting remains moot; whatever, it must be a step up from fag ends.

Elaine Paige is sadly still ruining Sunday lunchtimes with her inability to even say her name without sounding as if she is uttering a terrible blasphemy. The “retired” Anna Ford has been thrown something to stop her from moaning, except it’s rubbish: The Garden Quiz takes a vaguely interesting if indifferent subject and manages to make it as irritating as a rake in the retina.

Having to play stooge to Mark Radcliffe seems to have sapped Stuart Maconie‘s confidence as a solo broadcaster. The other weekend he kicked off his Saturday afternoon slot on Radio 2 by forgetting not merely what was coming next and the station telephone number, but also what record he’d just played. It was painful listening. He also sounded really bored. Perhaps a gimmick – say, a daily Talking Point – might revive things. Or he gets back with the right comedy partner.

Broadcasting House hosted by Paddy “This is Paddy, er, O’Connell” O’Connell and The Westminster Hour with Carolyn Quinn, at either end of Sunday on Radio 4, feel like they’re still struggling to live up to the efforts of their founding fathers, respectively Eddie Mair and Andrew Rawnsley.

Much better is The Bottom Line, Evan Davis’s weekly gossip about prices with a few captains of industry. You could never in a million years imagine his predecessor Peter “bias against understanding” Jay doing this kind of thing, and that’s just as well.

Don’t listen to The Moral Maze in the bath. There’s nothing worse than trying to relax while hearing Michael Buerk trying to dress up some abstract obtuse ethical irrelevance as A Crisis Of Our Time. The debates are never to do with morals anyway, and there’s sod all that’s maze-like as well: you either agree or you don’t.

Better stuff: Desmond Carrington, who is clinging on to a weekly spot at 7pm on Tuesdays on Radio 2; File On 4, which did a brilliantly-made expose of hospital fire risks last Sunday; Today In Parliament, which is back on Monday after half-term; James Naughtie covering the US elections on the Today programme; and of course The Archers, which in the last fortnight has tackled giant pancakes, the property market, inheritance, speed dating, slimming and newts. Any one of which would have made a decent Radio Times cover. Well, a more agreeable Radio Times cover than Ricky Gervais dressed up like Sid James in Carry On Henry.