Tuesday, 31 January 2017
Here we are at the end of January and I'm wondering what's the point of wishing everyone "Happy New Year" when it is blatantly obvious that it is as pointless as wasting millions on lavish celebratory fireworks and fizzy booze. By the end of the first month or sooner than that, it is a case of same shit, different year.
Politicians continue to bitch, people get killed and injured, public services get worse, the world gets angrier and meaner, headlines are hogged by bad news, scare stories get scarier, warnings get gloomier, the abyss of eternal damnation gets closer, humans become more inhumane, social media becomes more anti-social, gossip, rumour, innuendo and insult become more poisonous, and on and on and on.
there is a point to wishing everyone "Happy New Year" because it is a symbol of hope and if we lose our belief in hope, well, it's hopeless. And those in power, people of influence, the ones deciding our fate want us to feel hopeless, lost, fearful and distraught because they can then shape our lives, change our behaviour and control us any way they like.
All over the world, there are millions of law-abiding, decent, honest, loving, sincere people doing wonderful things, raising families, looking out for neighbours, being faithful friends, supporting their choices of charities and simply getting on with living as good a life as they possibly can for themselves and others. They are not interested in causing trouble or being selfish or uncaring or being drawn into the network of gadgetry, this relentless tsunami of balderdash and crap that pours out of TV, radio, Twitter, Facebook et al every second of every minute of every hour of every day. It is unstoppable. Sadly, even all the good things that appear on all of the media outlets are swamped by enormous surges of mischief and menace. But the good things are still there and still good.
Hope can never be killed off. Dreamers can and should still dream. Some dreams are impossible but not all of them.
I am reminded of the film Network and the character Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch) when he urges people to stop being complacent, to open their windows and shout: "I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!"
I am also reminded of this quotation: "We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope." Martin Luther King, Jr.
It can still be a happy new year despite all the people intent on wrecking it. Here's hoping.
Monday, 30 January 2017
When the deer jumped the wall and dented my car door,
I thought I had killed it or it had killed itself
But after a head shake and wobble it sprinted,
Disappearing into the Yorkshire countryside.
There were no witnesses. I could invent a yarn,
My own tall tale about this epic collision,
No surveillance photos to challenge my version,
The audience’s ears perked, mouths open, eyes wide.
I would feign flushed aftershock, hands gently trembling,
Needing one more single malt to steady myself,
Impersonating the sublime Olivier.
They had to believe I survived a deer attack.
And with each performance, more imagination,
Lying developing, lying as an art form,
The best lying with an air of truth, a straight face.
Deer jumped a wall, I crossed a line, no going back.
Saturday, 28 January 2017
Brian Matthew has been dropped as the regular presenter of Radio 2's Sounds of the Sixties, a programme he has 'owned' since 1990. I say 'owned' because he is a significant ingredient in the whole idea. He was part of that music revolution from the late 1950s through the 1960s. He has interviewed most of the legendary names on other shows that are synonymous with him and his wonderful, warm voice - Saturday Club on radio and Thank Your Lucky Stars on TV to name two. In 2006, he was honoured with a Sony Gold Award, and rightly so.
In British broadcasting terms, for a generation or two, he really is a radio legend. He is 88. For a few recent months, he has been off work for health reasons and, maybe, the BBC saw an opportunity to make changes.
The official statement from the BBC:
In amongst the praise there is more that a whiff of bullshit. "It felt like the right time for him to step off the weekly treadmill...." Who decided that? Not Brian Matthew by accounts. He is reported to have responded thus to the decision and the 'right time' crack:
“That’s absolute balderdash. I was ready and willing and able to go back, and they’ve just said they are going to put the programme in the hands of other people. I didn’t really have much in the way of ill health. I had a collapse at home at the bottom of our stairs, and my wife called the ambulance service. They came and examined me and said it was a matter for appraisal at the hospital. They put me on a ward, I stayed there for a while and now I’m back at home. I enjoyed doing the show very much indeed. I did it for 25 years. I feel very disconcerted, I must say. I do admit I’m a bit of an antique, but that’s never seemed to matter until now.”
He described the BBC's decision as "horrible" and it is. I find it very upsetting as a listener but also as someone who has grown up with great radio voices over the past 50 years. Brian Matthew is one of the great, great broadcasters and God knows who will take his place in the Sounds of the Sixties chair. The music will still be good but without his masterful tone guiding us calmly through the playlist, it will never be the same again. Heaven protect us from some wacky eejit parachuted in to attract 'young people".
What on earth is the problem with leaving Brian Matthew in his job until he decides it is time to leave? After all, he is "an outstanding presenter....a radio legend.....with natural ability, passion and warmth." Not my words (although I agree with them), but the BBC's.
Not only is it a horrible decision, it is stupid and, arguably, ageist. The BBC should hang its head in shame.
I offer Brian Matthew a big salute, good health and a continuing broadcasting career.
Friday, 27 January 2017
There is something rather comforting about the opening theme music for Desert Island Discs, the BBC radio programme that began 75 years ago on 29 January 1942. Roy Plomley who devised the show and presented it from the beginning to 1985 had the idea for natural sounds to introduce each edition; waves ebbing, flowing and crashing and sea birds calling and crying, allowing the listener’s imagination to get straight into the spirit of it all. Plomley preferred not to have musical accompaniment but he was overruled and the sea, the birds and the gentle air of By The Sleepy Lagoon has become one of the most familiar sounds on radio. The music lingers and the simple format has hardly changed over the years; a guest chooses eight records, a book and a luxury and chats about his or her life. In the beginning the rules about luxury items were very strict. For example, anything that would enable the castaway to escape from the island, like a boat or an aeroplane, was forbidden. As the programme has evolved, the rules have slackened more than once, reminding listeners that it’s really just a bit of fun. There have been many Irish-born guests over the years, but more of them later.
Roy Plomley came to broadcasting via estate agency, advertising and publishing. He had ambitions to be an actor and he appeared in bit parts in a few films. He was also a playwright. He gained radio experience as an announcer and producer but it seemed he was always thinking up new ideas to pitch to anyone who would give him a fair hearing, particularly at the BBC. He sent his idea to a producer for a show based on a castaway shipwrecked on a desert island with only ten of his or her favourite records to comfort them. After a bit of discussion about the format and the types of guests (mainly ‘serious’ unknowns from “the Establishment”), the idea was given the green light, but the record choices were reduced to eight to fit neatly into 30-minute programmes. Plomley did not envisage himself as presenter. He had thoughts of producing it and getting involved in booking guests and writing scripts. But presenter he became and the rest is broadcasting history.
The first programme in 1942 featured musician and comedian Vic Oliver, a big name in those days. He opened his record selection with Chopin and proceeded with more classical music and theatre songs. The 1940s shows were not scheduled at a specific time on a specific day. They were shuffled around and even the numbers of episodes per series were not set in stone. The format concentrated on music choices and the guests’ reasons for them. The now familiar additions of a book and a luxury item were included from the 1950s onwards. Notable guest castaways in the first year included bandleader Jack Hylton, comedian Arthur Askey, composer Ivor Novello and film star Leslie Howard. The programmes attracted mixed reactions from “most interesting” to “very poor”. But in 1946 the broadcasts came to an abrupt halt. After sixty-seven editions, there appeared to be little appetite at the BBC to produce any more. The idea had had its day, or so it seemed.
Five years passed and, after the show’s idea was unearthed in BBC management discussions, the decision was made to resurrect Desert Island Discs but this time the guest list was to be expanded to include more popular names and have fewer unfamiliar figures from the church, the military, highbrow literature and, generally, the elite. The net was cast wider for more actors, entertainers, sporting names and popular writers such as Peter Ustinov, Joyce Grenfell, George Formby, Stirling Moss, Gracie Fields and Monica Dickens. The first recorded luxury, in 1951, was crossword puzzles requested by Margaret Lockwood. The first recorded book choice was by actor Henry Kendall who chose Who’s Who In The Theatre.
Desert Island Discs has had four presenters in its history. Roy Plomley anchored the show until 1985, the year he died aged 71. After his rather plummy and posh speaking style, the choice of his successor, Michael Parkinson, brought a gruffer Yorkshire ingredient for the next three years. He was replaced by the smoother and more polished Sue Lawley who presented for the next 18 years, handing over the reins, in 2006, to the warm Scottish tones of Kirsty Young. In the early years, the show used fully scripted questions and answers but over time it evolved into a series of more relaxed natural conversations.
Most of the conversations have been genial, good-natured, informative and entertaining but occasionally there were examples of more serious and controversial subjects discussed. In 1989, Lady Diana Mosley described Adolf Hitler as fascinating and cast doubt on the number of Jews murdered by the Nazis. Gordon Brown, single in 1996, was asked by Sue Lawley about his sexuality, specifically rumours that he was gay. He declined to answer directly. (In 2000, he married his wife Sarah). Film director Otto Preminger took exception to Roy Plomley’s suggestion that he had lead a gypsy existence. In 2009, Morrissey expressed supportive views on suicide declaring “self-destruction is honourable. It’s an act of great control and I understand people who do it”. Some listeners were horrified when Norman Mailer was granted his wish for the very best marijuana as his luxury item. Stephen Fry chose a suicide pill as his luxury.
Over the years, the most popular music choices have included Mozart, Beethoven, Simon & Garfunkel, Elvis Presley, Mahler, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, Bach, Van Morrison, Handel, Puccini, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Vaughan Williams, Elgar, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and The Beatles.
Guests are given The Bible and The Complete Works of Shakespeare and allowed to choose a favourite book. Encyclopaedias, dictionaries poetry collections, cookbooks, DIY manuals and history books have been popular alongside works by Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Geoffrey Chaucer, Leo Tolstoy, Jane Austen, James Joyce, J. R. R. Tolkein, P. G. Wodehouse, George Bernard Shaw and many, many more.
While the records and books are fascinating enough, the luxuries are both varied and interesting, with some guests choosing practical items and others going for laughs. From a long list of Irish-born guests, here a a few examples over the years: Danny Blanchflower, golf clubs; Val Doonican, guitar; James Galway, golden flute; Dave Allen, a painting by Van Hook; Eamonn Andrews, field glasses; Brian Keenan, a pencil; William Trevor, grapevines; Seamus Heaney, Doc Marten boots; Gloria Hunniford, family photographs; Reverend Ian Paisley, a high-powered radio; Edna O’Brien, a vault of very good white wine; James Nesbitt, a bottle of chilled Sancerre every night; Christy Moore, a set of Uilleann pipes; Peter O’Sullevan, a bottle of Calvados; Bob Geldof, the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Clodagh Rodgers, prawn cocktails; Dennis Taylor, a limitless supply of yoghurts. Terry Wogan appeared three times. In 1983, his luxury was vodka, in 1988, a cassette player and language tapes and in 2012, bottles, pens and paper.
It is remarkable in today’s rapidly changing world that some things hold fast to their origins. It would be easy to jazz up Desert Island Discs in an attempt to redesign it and force it to get down with the kids. It would be unsurprising if some future radio executive chose an inappropriate presenter for the programme. The wrong voice and any introduction of wackiness would kill the idea stone dead. It is a danger that could happen, heaven help us.
75 years on from the first programme and well over 3,000 editions in the bag, we should thank and celebrate Roy Plomley for inventing the format and for successive BBC regimes for guarding and protecting it, staying true to the original, simple premise. It is radio at its finest, and like the shipping forecast that stirred many imaginations in the past, the notion of a desert island, a haven of peace and quiet in this chaotic world is not a bad thought, Cue the waves, the birds and the strains of By The Sleepy Lagoon.