Her again

Saturday 28th February 2009

It being the week for retreading the path of La Passionara of Privilege, and what with the 30th anniversary of her arrival in Downing Street not being broadcast by the BBC looming, here are a few short clips of when the irreconciliable worlds of Margaret Thatcher and popular culture collided.

1) Maggie does stand-up. Cecil and Ken seem to love it,  Tom King is in hysterics, but someone else appears to be choking into a handkerchief and the second tier of people on the platform are clapping because everyone else is. It’s a shame you don’t have party conferences like this anymore, with everyone in rows on a giant dais below a huge cardboard logo. Thatcher sounds like she’s reading the agenda at a meeting of a local parish church council. The sequence ends with the cameraman attempting, and failing, to find somebody in the audience who is laughing through comprehension, not apprehension.

2) Another conference, earlier in the decade. It’s 9.10am and waiting for Maggie outside the lift doors is John Stapleton with a huge stick microphone. He ushers her and her party (including Denis, who almost gets caught in the lift) over to a small frontispiece saying ‘TV-am Blackpool’ and a birthday cake. “We shall have to have just a small slice”.

…but wait, because there’s a Cilla-esque look-at-a-monitor-over-there surprise: a live link-up with Eggcup Towers, where Carol is sitting on the sofa. Maggie talks about a cosmetic case in which “you can put shoes”. They swap memories about a cake made to resemble a roundabout (how would this have worked?), before Thatcher launches into a classic ramble. “Children don’t want fruit cakes for their birthday, they want sponge cakes, something quite light…” John tries to interrupt, but her eminence presses on. “They also like Twiglets…”

3) More TV-am, this time from the confines of the studio. Thatcher, who has a bad throat, croaks at her interviewer with the kind of well-spoken rage that went out of fashion c. 1994.  “Do you think Mr Frost that I spend my days prowling round the pigeon holes of the Ministry of Defence? If you do, you must be bonkers…I’m sorry, what did you say?”

4) Britain is broken, and some kids want something done about it. This involves yelling during the 1980 Tory party conference. Maggie does her best headmistress – “Never mind, it’s wet outside, I expect they want to come in” – before giving the nod to a group of men to kick the hecklers in the teeth.

5) Finally, it’s lunchtime on 22nd November 1990, and just before some “mystery art lovers are revealed in Neighbours,” Philip Hayton has some important news. You could always tell when there was important news on the BBC in the Birt era, because rather than cut to the presenter after the titles, the camera went straight into a clip. Or rather, a freeze-framed clip that then jerked into life once the music had stopped. Phil sits at his desk in a really strange position and cues in William Waldegrave (“Are you still behind the prime minister Mr Waldegrave?” “Yes I am”) and some dreadfully-filmed footage of Heseltine being interviewed at an acorn-planting ceremony. 


Wendy Richard RIP

Thursday 26th February 2009

In happier times, as they always say, with Christopher Cazenove, Peter Jeffrey and Jakki Brambles.


Photo clippage #48

Monday 23rd February 2009

It’s the 1990s, which means Danny Baker is arriving at or is leaving or has just resigned from another radio station. But wait; who’s that bursting through the door in time for another “tsk, look at us?!” photo opportunity? It’s Chris Evans, on his way from, or to, a job at a different radio station, or possibly the same one, for his first or last programme until the next one. But wherever they are on your radio, you can be sure it ain’t no country show.


Missing Dr Who episodes finally found

Friday 20th February 2009

Well, at last, at long last, the search is over.

Ian Levine can hang up his telephone, nay all his telephones, settle back in his giant customised Noel Clarke-shaped beanbag, and slowly puff out his bilious cheeks. Yup, the location of all the remaining missing episodes of Dr Who has been revealed. Robert Mugabe has them.

It seems one of the world’s most wicked men, a tyrant who is culpable in the wrecking of a once prosperous nation and the starving of millions of citizens, is also a fan of children’s science fiction.

Now chances are, in some people’s eyes, four words of that preceding sentence cancel out all the others. Indeed, ‘wicked’, ‘tyrant’, ‘wrecking’ and ‘starving’ are undoubtedly tremulous charges.

But in other people’s eyes, people more used to prowling the floors of reference libraries humming tunes inspired by whichever particular archive edition of Radio Times they’ve just requested, or who have installed multiple telephone lines in their Panopticon-sized penthouse just in case two people try and get in touch about an off-air recording of episode four of The Web Planet (‘Crater Of Needles’) complete with BBC continuity at the same time, the thought of even some of those 108 “lost classics” nestling in Mugabe’s ottoman offsets such trivial matters as an inflation rate of 231,000,000%.

Maybe Levine hasn’t eased himself delicately into Noel’s thighs quite yet, and is instead at this moment demanding an open passage to Harare.

What, though, might be the evil fucker’s favourite episodes?

1) The Massacre Of St Bartholomew’s Eve (1966)
Body doubles, body counts and bodies of suspicious evidence, plus the main protagonist absent from the public eye for long periods of time “on holiday”. Home from home, really.

2) The Savages (1966)
A civilised elite maintain an advanced society by requisitioning and siphoning off the physical and psychological assets of a bunch of locals. Well, the siphoning off bit is true enough. And in both cases the locals are left destitute. As for the meddling old man who turns up from out of nowhere, he is, naturally, “the United Kingdom”. Everything that goes “wrong” in Zimbabwe is the fault of “the United Kingdom”.

3) The Chase (1965)
Because Robert likes a good runaround. Look, there’s William Shakespeare doing the Charleston on the top of the Empire State Building.

4) The Daleks’ Masterplan (1965-66)
Because Sara Kingdom sounds a bit like United Kingdom.

5) The Enemy Of The World (1967-68)
“Dinner tonight’s going to be a national disaster! First course interrupted by bomb explosion. Second course affected by earthquakes. Third course ruined by interference in the kitchen. I’m going out for a walk. It’ll probably rain.”

6) The Invasion (1968)
A particular favourite of Robert’s, thanks to its realistic depiction of corrupt western society (a young girl doing a fashion shoot in her own living room! More young girls hiding in packing crates! St Paul’s Cathedral!) plus the fact he can do a frame-by-frame comparison of the original episodes with the animated substitutions done for the DVD and laugh knowingly whenever Gary Russell pops up talking about “taping it all off the telly”.

Photo clippage: Lime Grove special

Wednesday 18th February 2009

Apropos nothing, a few snapshots of the erstwhile home of Nationwide, Tonight, 24 Hours, Breakfast Time and The Dimbleby Talk-In.

1) It’s 11th January 1954, and the Beeb’s new weatherman George Cowling makes his first appearance from Lime Grove. “He has been introduced in an effort to brighten presentation of the weather news.”


2) Forward 15 years or so. It’s the 1960s, which must mean a PR stunt involving a Magic Bus ride from outside Lime Grove with passengers The Who, a baby elephant called Eli, and two girls called Nicola Austine and Toni Lee:


3) April 1958: David is joined on the set of Zoo Quest by a youthful jumped-up self-preening squawker with a propensity for mouthing off. And Cocky the parrot. And Prince Charles.


4) Continuity announcer Sylvia Peters steps from a Heinkel bubble car on a chilly day in February 1957, to be greeted by Old Man Truscott, the Lime Grove commissionaire:


5) Richard Dimbleby, David Butler and co rehearse for their 1955 General Election results programme, replete with Puzzle Trail-style map of the realm:


“How long has the album been got together, as it were?”

Monday 16th February 2009

This being the week of the BPI Awards, here’s a helping from 1980 back when it was still the Radio 1 Daily Mirror Nationwide (precise order open to debate) Rock and Pop Awards.

Highlights include DLT’s many attempts at jocular adlibbery (“Oh Katy Katy, you look a bit shattered…No plugs for Walt Disney please”), Sue in a flattering outfit introducing Leo Sayer (“A gentleman for whom I personally have a very soft spot”), BA Robertson pissing about, the Numanoid looking comatose and the fact Cliff came third in the Best Male category. It’d be nice if the audience shut up now and then.

Meanwhile here’s 1989’s roustabout in full.

The First Division of Television Furniture

Saturday 14th February 2009

barrattOne of the many many highlights of BBC4’s recent Nationwide documentary was the sight of Michael Barratt blithely doing a bit to camera while a pot plant grew out of his desk.

This instantly confirmed the admission of Mike’s office suite (telephone, ashtray and customised wall of monitors included) to that uber-exclusive inventory: the First Division of Television Furniture.

But does it command enough upholstered clout to outrank any of the Division’s current top five?

1) The BBC Weathermen Daytime Desktop Conversation Area

weather Perma-feature of the mid-to-late 1980s, never without an in-season bouquet, that tantalisingly-unexplained ‘box of tricks’ at the forecaster’s fingers, and a view across London allowing details of the climate to be followed niftily by an avuncular ‘…as you can see behind me’.

2) The Multi-Coloured Swap Shop Presentation Pod

swapshopVaguely space age-esque circular plaything covered in crap but boasting space for Edmonds to rakishly put his feet up. “People are always asking me, how do you get inside it?” fibbed Noel every week. He revealed the answer on the last edition. A nation shrugged.

3) The Dave Allen Anecdote High Chair And Retractable Side Table

daveallen2Uncomfortable-looking contraption from which its occupant dispensed pointed blarney and acidic blather, usually involving as many equally terse arm gestures as possible. Accompanying left-hand add-on accessory served as holding pen for important visual aids and safety blankets.

4) The Channel 4 Daily Newsreader Bureau

c4dailyThunderously po-faced look-how-serious-we-are arrangement of dull and joyless colours and items organised for maximum potency to remind the viewing several of how fucking ghastly the world is first thing in the morning. Available in London, Washington and Tokyo varieties.

5) The Turnabout Swimming Pool

turnabout2Never knowingly used, referred to, advertised, entered, drained, chlorinated, defumigated, sifted, salinated, polluted or covered out-of-season to avoid falling leaves. But it was still genius.