We are being lied to


Generally, I avoid Political Posts, but comes a time when you can’t just let it slide.

Yesterday, at the Cenotaph, it was reported that Prime Minister Boris Johnson turned up with his hair unbrushed and his coat open and flapping. He stared around during the one minute silence whilst everyone else had their head bowed. He walked forward before he was due to do so and he presented a red wreath which he placed upside down.

Hardly respectful to those we choose to honour on that day. In the past, various Labour leaders have been sharply criticized, by the media en masse, for what has been deemed to be insufficient respect for this ceremony. I need hardly tell you there has been no such en masse criticism of Mr Johnson.

Once upon a time, the BBC was the envy of the world for its honesty and impartiality. Under Electorl Legislation, following the calling of a General Election, it is legally required to be neutral.

This morning, on BBC Breakfast News, coverage of the ceremony was shown. At the moment it fell to the Prime Minister to lay his wreath, the footagecut to Mr Johnson, his hair and apparel immaculate, place the wreath corrrectly at exactly the right moment, before cutting back to the rest of the ceremony. In this sequence, Mr Johnson was dressed differently from before and after, moved forward from a different place and carried a green wreath, instead of the red one in the other footage. This exactly placed footage came from the 2016 ceremony.

Why did the BBC conceal what happened and insert replacement footage of something three years before? If you listen to their explanation, it was a ‘production error’. Doesn’t everyone carry around with them news footage of old events and in error cut them into modern film shot less than twenty-four hours previously?

We are being lied to. We are the mushrooms in the old joke, because the BBC kept us in the dark in a General election campaign, and when such a blatant and shambolic trick was exposed, so disrespected their audience that they threw shit into our eyes.

Is this ‘error’ the only ‘error’ the BBC have made? You don’t have to be a cynic to answer that one when the crudity is blatant.

228


According to a tweet yesteday by Tom Newton Dunn, Political Editor of the S*n, research by BBCPolitics is saying that the Prime Madwoman will lose next week’s ‘meaningful’ vote by a margin of 228 votes. Though the figures he then goes on to quote actually add up to a 227 difference (I nicked this story from our former bros at FTN, hi homeys!)

It’s interesting that Dunn quotes this story without challenge or snark, making it look as if he accepts the outcome, and indeed agrees with it which, as Political Editor of one of the most virulent B****t papers, not to mention a vile and repulsive cesspit of liars, he most certainly doesn’t. We  have to ask ourselves, is a most crushing repudiation of Theresa May coming?

Logically, such a defeat ought to spawn resignation and a General Election on its own. At the worst, it should spawn defeat on a No Confidence vote. It would after all be most perverse to crush so fundamental a Government motion then turn around and say that you think it’s doing a good job. But this is 2019 and we are well and truly down Alice’s rabbit hole.

Whatever the ultimate outcome, it would be so nice if Parliament gave Mrs May such a black eye just for the hell of it. Her monomaniacal act these past couple of years not only deseres it, it demands it.

(This was originally composed for today’s thread on a private Political/Social Forum of which I am a joint Administrator, only another post went up whilst I was writing it. Hence publishing it here. FTN, or FlyTheNest, is a public Political/Social forum you can all visit.)

Whatever happened to this Likely Lad?


He’s the one on the right

I remember The Likely Lads from the Sixties, at first on TV and then on the radio, in adaptations made by James Bolam himself. My memories are brief: only one exchange about the ‘three star’ system – a horribly chauvinistic but absolutely typical concept – that went completely over my head at that tender age.

I also remember Rodney Bewes’ solo vessel, the ITV sitcom, Dear Mother, Love Albert, but here I only really remember that we watched it, and nothing of what we heard or saw.

But I was sixteen in 1972, when the BBC and writers Dick Clement and Ian La Fresnais brought back Whatever happened to the Likely Lads? and it changed the face of British sitcoms in a more subtle way than Steptoe and Son had done a decade before, but no less effectively. Thirteen episodes, a sequence building one upon another, that blended very effective and very real comedy with genuine emotion. As sitcoms go, it all but eliminated the ‘sit’ whilst being so utterly ‘com’ that we all roared along.

A second series wasn’t as focused, and the film was enjoyable but well below the standard set, and then James Bolam fell out with his co-star and refused to speak to him for the rest of their lives. Bewes fell on hard time and unlike Bolam never recovered any of the glory of starring on TV.

And now he’s gone, just a week or so short of his eightieth birthday. But for his falling out with Bolam, Clement and La Fresnais had expressed the wish to return to Bob and Terry, at five year intervals, dipping into lives that were ordinary and real and which they could make funny almost at will, by being no more than reporters of the natural comedy between friends who don’t really have all that much in common.

It never happened: another reason to journey to Earth-2. But a sitcom that ended forty years ago was so good that by itself it would be enough to celebrating the life of Rodney Bewes for.

A Very Sherlock Xmas


That’s about it, actually. The BBC aren’t releasing their Xmas schedule until next week, and it’s not going to be full of innovative material, but it does include a ‘festive’ edition of Sherlock, so unless we’re talking about a repeat of the last one-off, get ready to clear the decks.

Ninety minutes of great TV is better than none.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus


You could possibly say that I had a deprived childhood. There was this programme on BBC TV, late on Sunday evenings, with a weird title, that made me curious. All I had to go on was the name in the TV schedules: what on Earth could it be about? When I mentioned it to my parents, said I’d like to see it to see what it was about, they said it was rubbish. Well, they would, wouldn’t they?

That wasn’t much by itself. It was at school where it got serious. By this time, the programme had moved to Thursday evenings, I think (I could look all this up, but when you’re in the shadowy areas of distant memory, it’s best not to let facts taint anything). And Friday morning would come round and I’d arrive at school and it was like a nightmare. Spam? Spam? Why’s everybody going round saying spam all the time? And what’s this sudden fascination with being a Lumberjack?

I had no idea what it was all about, and my status at school was sufficiently shaky as to deter me from asking questions. I was already so far behind everybody when it came to knowing things about the outside world that being confessedly outside this… this… hell, I had no idea what it was but it was obviously so massively popular that I didn’t dare ask what the thing was.

Well, eventually, I came to know that these Friday morning mystery obsessions were sketches – long long since classics – from the oddly named Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Not that I still ever got to see these things for myself, since my parents still thought it was rubbish and wouldn’t have it on. They’d been pretty hip about Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In but this was another order of things.

But it means that, seemingly alone among all my contemporaries, I was immune to the fascination and hilarity of one of the seminal comedy programmes of all time. I missed the whole thing when it was there to be experienced, I was further ostracised through ignorance and, when I did finally get to see these programmes and sketches and insanity for myself, I couldn’t relax into just watching and laughing. I was self-conscious about my massive gap in knowledge, and I couldn’t just take in any sketch when I was constantly going, ‘oh, so that’s what they were talking about’.

If I’d watched Monty Python in the ordinary way, probably I’d have been in hysterics at what I was seeing. I was already developing an antic sense of humour that took delight in anarchy and improbability, and I had a burgeoning loyalty towards the even more seminal comedy that inspired the Pythons themselves, The Goon Show.

To the best of my recollection, I’d actually only heard one Goon Show by that time, a Saturday night repeat that included a gag that I remember to this day which had me rolling on the floor laughing. But I’d been introduced to the Goons through the wonderfully silly puppet version, The Telegoons, and its comic strip version in TV Comic.

I wouldn’t properly get into the Goons in their serious form until the Seventies and, truth to tell, they hold the place in my funny bone that those of my generation reserve for Monty Python. That chance was missed, and it can’t be created retrospectively.

The only Monty Python I did see when it came out was the fifth and final John Cleese-less series, which everyone agrees wasn’t up to their standards. I’ve seen the films, two of them in the cinema, I heard the Live at the Hollywood Bowl album innumerable times (the fact that I relatively quickly got bored with shrieks of ‘Albatross!’ suggests that I might not have been the ideal receptive audience after all), and I’ve seen most if not all of the programmes.

I’ve even seen all the unwiped episodes of the two series that fed into Python, the BBC’s At Last the 1948 Show and ITV’s Do Not Adjust Your Set, the later of which I’d watched and loved when it came out.

That one featured Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones. And Terry Jones is why I’m rummaging through these memories today. Terry Jones, a very funny man, a very intelligent man, a very likeable man, whose family yesterday disclosed that he is suferring from progressive primary aphasia, a form of dementia.

Why do these things happen to the best and the brightest? Though the tide seems to have rolled back in recent months, this has been a devastating year for the loss of the immensely talented, and it is as bad to hear of someone like Terry Jones being affected in this manner as it would be to hear of his death. There are those who would say that dignity and being a Python are things that should never be placed in the same sentence, and they’re not only those who, like my parents, found nothing of what the Pythons did to be funny. But dammit, I may not have the attachment to Terry and the gang that my generation owns, but he doesn’t deserve this.

Nobody does. But some don’t deserve it more than others.

Memories die. Times fade. I will always remember the sheer, hopeless bemusement of those Friday mornings as Terry and the Pythons moved the world away from me on a weekly basis.

 

Porridge Regurgitated


As it ought to be

On a scale of Still Open All Hours to 10, the one-off Porridge revival rated about a 3. That was based on one point for making me laugh, softly, half way through the episode, and two for not being anything like as dire as Still Open All Hours. That still doesn’t mean it was in any way a good idea, nor that the show worked, and it certainly doesn’t mean that time or energy should be expended on making any more.

I picked out Porridge as being the only one of this mercifully short season of sitcom revivals with the potential to work because it was the only one to acknowledge the passage of time since its primary’s heyday. Also, it had Dick Clement and Ian la Fresnais going for it. This showed in the scripting, which was easily recognisable as the duo’s work.

It just wasn’t funny enough, though.

Some of it has to be put down to the actors. Kevin Bishop inherits the Fletch role as grandson of the original (sad to say, his grandad has also passed away, even in fiction, five years before, but he never went back inside, and Uncle Lennie was inspired by him and eventually set Fletch up with a North London pub, a real pub). I’ve not watched Bishop before. He’s not Ronnie Barker, which is nothing to be ashamed of, but on this showing he’s no more than a stereotypical, cheeky chappie Cockney, and he’s considerably younger than the old Fletch.

Clement and la Fresnais are to be applauded for not slavishly following their original, especially when the cell-mates set-up is reversed by having Fletch squared away with an old lag (Joe Lotterby, 77 years old, knew Fletch Senior in Slade, inspired the only real laugh I had when he related the true circumstances of his conviction for murder).

But that exposes a serious weakness in the revival. The point of Porridge was that Fletch was an old lag, a wily old lag, experienced in doing his bird, fly and far ahead of the screws. Nigel Fletch is a smartarse cyber-criminal, doing his first sentence. He’s too young and inexperienced to be a convincing wily old lag, yet that’s what he’s got to be.

As for the rest of the show, Clement and la Fresnais have been wise enough to go for recreating the atmosphere rather than slavishly duplicating the cast. There are recognisable figures: Mancunian gang boss Richie Weeks (Ralph Ineson) is the Harry Grout du nos jours, whilst Dominic Coleman as Senior Warder Braithwaite and Mark Bonnar as Chief Warder Meekie, are obvious replacements for Barrowclough and Mackay.

As for the rest of the lags, we do not have direct substitutes for Warren, McLaren, Godber, Lukewarm, etc., which is good in one way, but none of the new characters are as neatly drawn, nor so deftly played, as a result of which they make little impression.  The only one who succeeds is Bonnar, as Warder Meekie, and he is the one who most shamelessly channels his original, Fulton Mackay.

So there you have it. The show fails to be as distinctive and promising as its original because, in a clearly applaudable decision not to duplicate the original, it fails to set a clear enough tone of its own. Nobody is really sure how to play their characters without coming over as plagiarising the first cast, and the only one who says, soddit, I’m going for it, is the most convincing character of all, mainly be reminding us how much better the Seventies Porridge was. And still is.

Let common sense and ordinary decency prevail. Do not order a series. Please.

Sitcom revival ahead – beware!


There was an item in the news yesterday about the BBC reviving its 1990s time-travel sitcom, Goodnight Sweetheart – Nicholas Lyndhurst’s first solo vehicle – for a one-off special to celebrate sixty years of sitcoms.

I didn’t so much mind that as I’d never watched the show at the time – I am not fond of the writing of Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran – so it mattered not to me whether the revival was either disappointing or pathetic. What concerned me rather more is that the Goodnight Sweetheart revival is, according to the piece, just part of a sitcom season.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a BBC sitcom revival season any day – after all, the BBC’s track record in sitcoms far far outweighs that of ITV – providing that it limits itself to repeats of old favourites.

But the write-up seems to indicate that these revivals are going to be newly-made episodes, a la Still Open All Hours, and you know my opinion of that one.

The only other sitcoms being mentioned are Are You Being Served? (about which I do not care one jot), Porridge (sacrilege! Haven’t you done enough to Ronnie Barker’s memory yet?) and a Keeping up Appearances prequel to be titled Young Hyacinth, which fills me with dread as both an arid concept with a proven track record of unmitigated disaster, and because who on Earth could ever convince anyone they were going to turn into Patricia Routledge (unless the BBC has access to time travel technology and can produce an actual younger Patricia Routledge, in which case I’m going to be down the DG’s offices with a very long list of names).

And these are only the named ones, the ‘include’s. What other horrors have the BBC got up their sleeves.

This is not a good idea. Every attempt to do this has been proved to be a disaster. Why are they insisting on doing things like this? Doesanyonehave an Air Raid Shelter they’re not using?

Speaking a very small amount of ill of the Dead


They say you should never speak ill of the dead, unless there is something serious to be spoken of. Imagine staying quiet about Jimmy Savile. This is not a case remotely like that.

January’s toll of the famous and well-known has not been allowed to lapse, as the last day of the month sees the death of the broadcaster Terry Wogan, at the age of 77: another victim of cancer.

Being one of the apparent few immune to Wogan’s charms, I find myself similarly immune to any sense of loss. He was a presence on Radio 1 when I first began to listen to it regularly, until Radio 1 finally was given its own, separate frequency, allowing it to forego sharing with Radio 2 in the afternoon.

I watched his chat show on BBC1 regularly, because my mother liked it, and because from time to time he had on guests in whom I was interested, but when it came to chat shows, there were several others I would rather watch handling those on whom celebrity had devolved.

And when I began my fascination with the voting machinations of the Eurovision Song Contest, I rapidly began to loathe Wogan’s much-celebrated but increasingly phone-it-in commentary, with its barely disguised anti-Eastern European xenophobia and his refusal to allow the viewer to enjoy anything that smacked of the host country’s culture. Frankly, I was convinced he actually stopped commenting ten years before his retirement, and the BBC just played the same commentary over and again, in the security of knowing no-one would notice.

But these are trivial things, and all they mean is that Terry Wogan was not to my taste. His family and friends will mourn him, and so too will the listeners of all formats who thought of him as a friend, however removed they were from ever meeting him. January has been a cruel month, whether it personally affected me or not. Let us hope that February gives us more of a relief.

Things you couldn’t say on the Radio


The random access butterfly of memory has flapped its wings again, stirring up another remembrance of times past. Gather round me, my children, whilst I relate to you another tale of when things were Not As They Are Now.
I speak of The Kinks, and their classic hit single, ‘Lola’. I have mentioned from time to time that I literally discovered pop/rock music ten days from the end of the Sixties, and ‘Lola’ was the band’s first big success of the new decade.
I’m pretty sure that I was vaguely aware of the band’s existence but not their history. I knew ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’ but was under the impression that it was a novelty song, and therefore not by a ‘name’ band. I was certainly not aware that the band hadn’t reached the Top Ten since 1967, nor the Top Twenty since the following year.
It was a strange time. The Sixties were over, no-one knew what the Seventies was going to hold, and all the currently surviving Sixties pop bands were going ‘heavy’ to one degree or another. The Kinks weren’t immune to that, in fact they, in their idiosyncratic way, had begin the process somewhat earlier than most.
‘Lola’ was a glorious revival, but there was a point, early in its existence, where it could all have gone wrong, for the BBC were on the point of banning it.
Perhaps banning is too strong a word, and I’m not aware of what negotiations were being carried  out, but there was a distinct reason why the song, in its original form, was not going to get any airplay on Radio 1, and it was serious enough that, in order to get the record on the air, Ray Davies had to break off an American tour, fly back to  England, and record an overdub.
Let’s consider that opening verse, shall we?
I met her in a club down in Old Soho
Where they drink champagne
And it tastes just like Coca-Cola
C-O-L-A, Cola
I walked up to her and I asked her to dance
I asked her her name
And in a different voice she said “Lola”
L-O-L-A, Lola
Already Ray Davies is signalling that things are not quite of the ordinary, and indeed he quickly follows up by signalling openly that Lola is a transvestite and that ‘she’ and the singer are entering a sexual relationship.
Not exactly the lightweight, family-friendly, boy meets girl and shares nothing but sweet, innocent kisses until three years after the wedding that was the kind of thing decent, honest, hard-working parents expected their kids to be listening to on Radio 1 in 1970.
You may now think that you understand why ‘Lola’ was in such danger of a radio ban, but you would be wrong. Go back to that verse: the clue is right there. In order to make The Kinks’ new single playable, Ray Davies had to overdub a single word. Can you guess which it is?
That’s right: it was ‘Coca’.


The BBC was, and still is, an organisation set up, and operated by Government Charter. Though primarily independent (this is talking about 1970, when the Beeb really did hold itself separate from most Government influence and was incredibly better for it), it was still  the National Broadcaster. As such, it was barred from throwing the National weight behind advertising in any form. Even when it came to a pop song’s lyrics.
The Kinks could not be allowed to sway public opinion towards the Coca-Cola Corporation, and to the clear detriment of Pepsi-Cola, and all the other small brewers of Colas the world over. So Davies had to criss-cross the Atlantic to record a radio-friendly version that referenced the fictional Cherry Cola.
The single, of course, was unaltered. All those innocent thousands who bought it after hearing it on Radio 1 found themselves subjected to the most pernicious and insidious advertising.
Of course, the irony is that now, and for many years, the BBC has been perfectly happy to play the Coca-Cola version – always a jarring experience for those of us as old as me, conditioned to expect Cherry – and the forgotten radio version is just as much as advertisement as the original, Cherry Cola being a very popular drink.
This wasn’t the first, nor the last time that product placement would radically affect a record’s chances with the BBC. Let us go back a dozen years, to 1958, and the single ‘Beep Beep’, recorded by The Playmates.
I have a vague, and clear illusory memory of hearing this song on Juke Box Jury, but the more factual version is that I became familiar with ‘Beep Beep’ from its regular appearances on Junior Choice throughout the Sixties.
That alone should tell the young folk that we are dealing here with a novelty song. Let’s delve deeper. According to Wikipedia, this is a perfect example of accelerando, meaning that the song gets faster and faster as it goes along. It begins at walking place, with this guy driving along in his big, flashy, powerful, status symbol Cadillac when he gets beeped from behind by a guy who  wants to pass him: the guy in back is driving a Nash Rambler. Oh dear.
Whilst driving in my Cadillac, much to my surprise (beep, beep)
A little Nash Rambler came right behind, about one third my size (beep, beep)
The guy must have wanted to pass me out, cos he kept on tooting his horn (beep, beep)
I’ll show him that a Cadillac is not a car to scorn (beep, beep).
You get the picture. This may be a novelty song, but its subject cuts deeply to the heart of the psycho-sexuality of the American male. The beep beep, incidentally, is a cheap and tinny car horn, and it is beeped at the end of every line.
Naturally, the Caddy-driver speeds up, which is echoed in the accelerando, but instead of leaving the little Nash Rambler behind in the dust, the silly little car stays right on the Caddy’s tail, still beeping its horn at the end of every line, determined to overtake. Which would be a big disgrace.
Now we’re doing a hundred ten, as fast as I can go (bip, bip) – the horn has got faster too
The Rambler pulled alongside of me, as if I were going slow (bip, bip)
The fellow rolled down his window, and yelled for me to hear (bip, bip)
“Hey, buddy, how can I get this car out of second gear?” (fusillade of bips up to abrupt cut-off)
But this isn’t the song with which my infant ears became familiar. It was decades, and decades of forgetting The Playmates even existed, before I ever heard of Cadillacs and Nash Ramblers.. The song I recollected was about the driver of a generic ‘limousine’ being pursued by an equally generic ‘bubble car’ (and if you’ve ever seen a bubble car, you’ll know why that made the song even more of a goof).
Yes, the BBC had even required a novelty song to record a radio-friendly version that excluded references to specific makes of cars, even though neither of the cars or their rivals were available to buy in Britain. Even though not one Briton in one hundred thousand could have recognised a Nash Rambler if one ran him over (very slowly). The airwaves could not be defiled by commercialism.


Nor did this attitude die out any time soon. Fifteen years later, three years after ‘Lola’, Paul Simon had a massive world-wide hit with a song called ‘Kodachrome’. Kodachrome did not exist in Britain, but the single was never released here anyway. Not only would the BBC not play it, they wouldn’t even allow it to be referred to by name.
To return to the subject of ‘Lola’, you still may find it strange that, even after the invention of Cherry Cola to make the track playable, the BBC did not have any qualms about playing a song so clearly celebrating transvesticism and homosexual relationships, subjects all but designed to set the crusading heart of Mrs Mary Whitehouse a-fluster (look what a fuss she made about Chuck Berry’s ‘My Ding-a-Ling’).
In answer to that I can only point to another single that came out in 1973, Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, which improbably reached no. 10 in Britain. Where Ray Davies spoke in rather guarded, albeit unambiguous terms, Reed let it all hang out, especially the line about ‘But she never lost her head/even when she was giving head’ (which got censored like a shot on American radio – the ‘coloured girls’ didn’t survive either).
But the song was on Radio 1’s playlist, meaning that you’d hear it at least three to four times every day, Monday to Sunday. The DJs knew what it meant. The Producers knew what it meant. Everybody knew what it meant (except for a rather naïve, innocent seventeen year old with practically no experience, over whose head it passed like Concorde, and at a similar distance).
The BBC didn’t. They really did not get it. They seriously did not understand the words.
So ‘Lola’ was never in any danger , not even with the lines:
Now I’m not the world’s most masculine man
But I know what I am
And I’m glad I’m a man.
And so’s Lola.
L-O-L-A, Lola.

A Bit of a Gloat


Gloating is an ugly emotion, and I get so few chances to indulge in it.

Having jacked Doctor Who in after a series of increasingly disastrous and nonsensical episodes, I have to confess to finding myself amused to read that the series is apparently in trouble.

If the reports I have been reading are to be believed, last year’s ratings – the first series to feature Capaldi – tanked it big time, and the first two episodes of this season – the ones to which I took such exception when I watched them – made last year’s audiences look like a major success.

Add to this the by-now confirmed fact that Jenna Coleman is leaving and the new rumours that Peter Capaldi wants to quit to spend more time with his wife and children, and the waters are seriously mounting.

But what astonished me most was the rumour that the BBC are considering radically reformatting the programme by cancelling the 2016 series and substituting a short series of films, a la Sherlock.

This isn’t without precedent: there was a year under Russell T Davies where the same approach was adopted, but I don’t think that had anything to do with audiences.

We shall await developments with interest. This is but one report and may have no truth to it whatsoever, but in case it’s on the money, I just wanted to bring this up. Needless to say, I believe I have the solution: it should be Stephen Moffat who leaves. Time for fresh minds and ones that can combine imagination and wit with plots that actually make sense.