A few years ago, TV Cream was fortunate enough to publish a series of extracts from the diary of the TV editor of Radio Times, Alison Graham.
The insights the diary gave into the life and work of one of Britain’s most prominent television journalists were profound and deeply instructive. They lifted the lid on the world of a TV critic with an unparalled honesty.
It’s with great pleasure that TV Cream is once again able to bring you selections from Alison Graham’s diaries, this time covering the entire year of 2008. Her tales of working with Gill (Hudson, Radio Times editor) and David (Butcher, deputy TV editor), and her relationship with people such as Mark (Lawson) and Ricky (Gervais), paint a picture of a true one-off besides serving as a suitable review of the year in television.
PART ONE: JANUARY-JUNE 2008
Well, I guess it finally had to happen. No, not me washing the tea mugs at work – I mean taking down my Christmas decorations! “Shouldn’t you have done that four days ago?” Gill asked me, glancing up from an official-looking piece of paper during a working lunch in Tony’s Trattoria. “Heavens no,” I replied, “I like staring at all the twinkly lights.” “I wasn’t talking about your decorations,” Gill snapped and pulled a funny face, before muttering something about having to tell readers I was on holiday again this week. I heartily approve. After all, I always tell readers how it is.
After watching another episode of my favourite programme Celebrity Big Brother (it’s so bad it’s good!) I suddenly realised it didn’t actually contain any celebrities. I decided to ring Mark to find out what was going on. Apparently Channel 4 has changed the format because of an incident involving a poppadom. I told Mark I once had an incident with a poppadom that left me unable to speak for three days. But when I mentioned how this had “so upset my colleagues at Radio Times”, he made a strange noise that sounded like he was choking and had to ring off. I hope he’s all right.
I remembered how much I enjoyed watching Extras during my Christmas holiday, and decided to ring Ricky to ask if he was doing another series of The Office this year. It’ll give me something to write exclusively about in my exclusive Radio Times column, I thought. Sadly Ricky wasn’t in, so I rang Mark who informed me that the British sitcom is dead! At this rate I’ll have my column sewn up until Easter!
Mark has now decided the British sitcom isn’t dead after all. I wish he would make his mind up. Nobody likes a TV critic who constantly changes their opinion about things.
I discovered that Celebrity Big Brother is doing badly in the ratings. I’m not surprised. It is a terrible programme and I never liked it.
On last night’s Crimewatch they had that lady who reads the Channel Five news as presenter. “What has happened to Nick Ross?” I asked David in the office. “Haven’t you heard?” he replied cheerily, “the BBC is replacing everyone who has been doing the same job for years and years and giving new blood a chance.” He seemed very excited, which I thought singularly inappropriate seeing as how Nick Ross was a very good presenter. Later, when David told me he was off for a special meeting in the personnel office, I called out: “Don’t have nightmares!” He gave me a funny look.
I have discovered that Trevor McDonald is back on the News At Ten! It’s only because I watch a lot of television that I notice things your casual viewer would miss. What with Trevor and all these wonderful new shows like The Palace and Moving Wallpaper, I just know this is going to be a great year for ITV!
ITV is in terrible trouble! I rang Mark to find out why. “They have forgotten how to make good television drama,” he explained, “and that is why the ratings are so bad”. I didn’t know what he meant. When I tuned in I found that all their programmes were made properly, had beginnings and endings, and even a few famous faces.
I am convinced ITV is not in terrible trouble. Their programmes are full of famous people, whereas EastEnders on BBC1 is now having to do entire episodes with just one character! “It beats me why anybody would want to spend half an hour listening to one old woman droning on,” I said to David in the office. “That’s a shame, I was so much looking forward to your presentation at next week’s quarterly review,” he replied. I reassured him the presentation was still taking place, and suggested he get a breath of fresh air to clear his head.
While having a working lunch in The 300 Spartans, Gill asked me how I find the time to watch so many television programmes in order to sound so authoritative in my column. “Delegation,” I chuckled, giving her a big wink, before adding, “I only deal with the cream of British television!” “Yes,” Gill replied, “the rich and the thick.” I didn’t know what she meant.
I must say I am having trouble understanding this new series of Doctor Who. The Doctor is a woman and seems to spend every episode in a police station in 1981! My suspicions about the BBC being short of money are clearly correct. I will have to be careful to set an example and not mislead my readers into thinking I am living high on the hog.
I’ve returned from a holiday in the Loire valley to find Doctor Who is still a man and the programme I saw was called Ashes To Ashes. I don’t know why I bother having David as an assistant if he never tells me anything. “Didn’t you watch Life On Mars?” he asked when I raised the matter with him. “Of course I did, I watch everything important,” I shouted. “Does that include your own back?” he murmured, leaving the room. I think David is suffering from job stress. I can’t think why: it’s not like he has to write a Radio Times column full of exclusive TV news and gossip every week of the year!
I saw from my TV column that I now think the British sitcom is alive and kicking! I immediately rang Ricky to tell him the good news and to ask when The Office is coming back. Instead I got a recorded message telling me to fuck off. He must have confused me with someone else. He’s such a wag!
It’s great having David Attenborough back on television. Even though he is old, I’m sure he will continue to deliver such extraordinary insights into our natural world for years to come.
David Attenborough has resigned! It was in last week’s copy of Radio Times, probably at the back somewhere by the letters page. He has said he has just done his final series for the BBC and has “had enough of dealing with old fossils”. When I read this out during our weekly staff meeting everyone laughed, and Gill said “I know how he feels”, which was kind of her.
I decided to have a little fun with David this morning. When he came into my office I asked him to sit down and, facing him across the desk, I said “David, I’m very sorry to have to tell you this, but I’ve made up my mind and…YOU’RE FIRED!” He turned completely white! He started shouting “I’ll have you! I’m taking this to the union! There’ll be a tribunal!” He didn’t realise I was doing an impression of Sir Alan Sugar, which was a shame as I thought it was quite good. Later on I offered to buy him a coffee but he said “I don’t like bullshitters” which I thought singularly inappropriate. I am glad he is not my apprentice!
Gill has introduced a new regime whereby some members of staff will act as apprentices to other members of staff for one week. David is my apprentice. He asked me what I thought of Gavin and Stacey. “I’m not interested in your private life,” I replied, “only what you can do for me. I am unique!” – which was clever, because that is a line from the actual Apprentice. “This is not a game, Alison,” he said in a funny voice. “No, it’s Radio Times,” I replied. He clearly has a lot to learn.
I have fetched up in Venice on a quick spring break. It’s so nice to be away from the pressure of writing a weekly column. It’s not like there’s something good to watch every week as it is! Unfortunately while I was out taking a stroll I remembered I’d forgotten to set my video for my new favourite programme, Foyle’s War (it’s so quaint it’s quirky!). I immediately went back to the hotel and rang David to ask him to put a tape in. Unfortunately Gill came on the line and told me David had just jumped out of a window, but I needn’t worry about coming back and doing my column because nobody is interested in television at the moment. Gill is such a thoughtful boss.
Gill is such a mean boss. She has ordered me to come back to work because she claims I am having too much time off! Honestly, I can’t watch the television when I’m in the office, can I? To make matters worse, I have found out that Foyle’s War has been cancelled by ITV because they think it is rubbish. I never liked it anyway.
My new favourite show Heroes is back, and it’s better than ever! If I had a superhero power, it would be the ability to watch television programmes and then replay them in front of my eyes – in other words, a built-in video recorder in my brain. “No danger of that ever becoming full up,” said David. “Exactly, because I would wipe it every week,” I replied. “No change there then,” he added, strangely.
Mark told me the new series of Heroes is rubbish. It’s so confusing for me being the nation’s number one TV critic! At least he had a tip-off: Frank Butcher is coming back to EastEnders! I can’t wait to reveal this exclusive in my column.
I am not talking to Mark. Not only did Frank come back to EastEnders two weeks ago, he came back in a coffin! Selflessly, I thought not of myself, but of Mike Reid: it’s no fun having your character killed off. I decided to send him a little note.
A working lunch at the Cactus Café. Gill wanted to know my tips for shows to watch this summer. “They haven’t started yet!” I chuckled between mouthfuls of Venezuelan beaver cheese. “I can’t very well tell you about something I haven’t even seen.” “Why change the habit of a lifetime?” Gill muttered in response. I think David’s job stress is now affecting her as well.
The current series of Doctor Who is the best ever. When I mentioned this fact to David, he started talking a lot about poor characterisation and lazy scriptwriting and lots of technical jargon. I simply said to him: “Am I bovvered?” Because that’s what the character says in Doctor Who. He looked pale and angry. “Perhaps you need to see a Doctor?” I quipped. He didn’t laugh, strangely.
Came back from a fact-finding trip to Miami Beach to discover David has completely rearranged my office! He has taken my big desk, the sofa, video, tea and coffee making facilities and the office telephone, while I have to make do with a small trestle table in the corner! He says it’s because I’m hardly in, so it’s a better use of space. “Pity I can’t do anything about that other spare space,” he added. “Oh yes,” I asked, “what’s that?” “The one between your ears,” he replied. How nice of David to complement me on the size of my brain! Even so, I do wish he’d told me first before he re-arranged my room. I have no truck with people who don’t warn you they’re about to do something dramatic.
Without warning I have decided to ask Gill for a pay rise! Oh yes! “My salary does not equate with my output,” I explained to her over a working lunch in The Pride Of Bombay. “You can say that again,” Gill retorted, giving me a funny look.
I have a new favourite show: Pushing Daisies. It’s so kooky it’s criminal! It’s about what happened to Beth Jordache from Brookside after she left the Close to move to America. I’m sure it’s going to be a hit. What with that and Britain’s Got Talent, this is surely going to be ITV’s year.
I am finding it hard to understand the plot in Pushing Daisies. I bumped into Mark in the BBC canteen and he said ITV had dropped an episode to make room for the World Cup. “At least Britain’s still got Talent,” I joked. “Not from where I’m standing,” he replied, curiously.
When David came into my office this afternoon I greeted him by shouting “OWOOOGGGGOOO!” He almost dropped his cup of tea in fright! I had to explain I was quoting from Gladiators, which is back on ITV. “It’s ‘awooga’,” he replied, “and it’s on Sky, not ITV.” “Don’t be silly,” I retorted, “Gladiators is an ITV programme, how can it be on another channel?” David then started fiddling with something down the back of my office television set. When I asked what he was doing, he replied “just checking this thing is actually plugged in”. He’s such a one!
Mark tells me that Ricky is never going to write another episode of The Office or Extras again! To me this was clear evidence the British sitcom is dead. Mark, however, insisted it wasn’t dead, but neither was it alive. Instead it existed in some kind of semi-conscious half-vegetative state. I do enjoy Mark’s company; it’s so nice to talk to someone on your own wavelength.
I saw in the paper that Ricky is doing a new series after all! I shall never trust Mark again.
Mark rang up asking if I could trust him. Naturally I said yes, hoping for another exclusive I could use in my column! Apparently a hot tip for big things in the autumn is none other than my old mate Jack Dee! How nice to think that someone who’s been around for ages and has a reputation for mouthing off unpleasantly week after week is about to get what they deserve. When I mentioned this to David, he started laughing hysterically and ran out of the building.
to be continued…