Film 2020: Red Shift

Alan Garner’s own adaptation of his 1973 novel as a 1977 BBC Play for Today is the one remaining ‘film’ left in this series that gives me real pause for doubt. The book has been my favourite among Garner’s works since I first read it, not long after publication, and it remains one of my favourite books of all time. That I was unable to watch the film on its original, and only, broadcast due to an interview far away from which I could not get back in time was devastating.

Since first acquiring a DVD copy, initially by purchasing a private copy obviously videoed, this is only the third time I have watched Red Shift. Partly, this is because, oddly enough, the film is too faithful to the book. By that I don’t mean that it tries to capture in film what can only successfully be rendered in words – where such sscenes exist in the book, Garner sensibly doesn’t even try to include these. But the book is ninety per cent dialogue (it’s a wholly stripped down book in all respects) and to hear this spoken verbatim, with faces and bodies and settings wrapped around it, produces a strange and not entirely welcome effect.

It’s as if the film has no real life of its own because it’s shackled to the earlier, and very complete, work.

Red Shift tells a complex story that is not anchored to a single time-frame. It’s dominated by the contemporary love story of Tom and Jan (Stephen Petcher and Lesley Dunlop), but intercuts with two other moments in time: the remnants of the lost Roman Ninth Legion attampt to survive among Cheshire tribes and during the Civil War a village is massacred by the King’s Men. Both these parallels centre upon a young couple. There is Macey, the young beserker and the unnamed priestess who his fellows hold captive, pregnant from their rapes (Andrew Byatt and Veronica Quilligan). And there is Thomas Rowley, an epileptic, and his wife Madge (Charles Bolton and Myra Frances) who survive the massacre though Madge too has been raped – and possibly made pregnant – by her former suitor Thomas Venables.

In the book, all three sequences are equals, irrespective of the different lengths given to them, but in the film we are watching Tom and Jan to whom the other pairs are but slightly outre alternatives.

The film is a love story, of sorts, linked in place rather than time, with the stories centring upon Chesire, and upon the folly-topped outcrop of Mow Cop. They are linked by a votive stone axe of incredibly preserved condition that passed from one couple to another. They are linked by almost parallels reverbrating from era to era. But it is Tom and Jan, the modern age couple of the Seventies, who receive most of our attention.

The pair are teenagers of about 18, living in Rudheath, Cheshire. Tom, the son of an Army Sergeant-Major and a possessive mother, is highly intelligent, highly articulate, studying for something that’s never defined, Jan is a bright, attractive girl, dsughter of two psychiatrists, intent on becoming a nurse, which means her moving to London for her training. Though we quickly are introduced to Tom’s latent instability, it takes the film much longer to reveal that both are the product of home environments that have affected them badly.

And it’s on the very evening that Tom learns tjat not only is Jan going to London but her parents are also moving away, have already sold their house, that his parents start asking if the two of them have yet had sex.

It’s not put so bluntly but that’s what it is: have you done anything that would cause us to be ashamed of you? As it happens, the pair haven’t. They are tactile, hand-holding, hugs and kisses, but neither of them, and especially Tom, are yet ready. not that it’s any business of his parents if they have.

But the enormity of the question, prompted by his mother through his more-easily embarrassed father, strikes through the shield of Tom’s words and breaks him. Whilst his poisonous mother (an excellent performance by Sheila Tanner, a familist character actress well-siuited to harridan-like roles) accused Jan of being the unspoken equivalent of a succubus, Tom pushes a window of their caravan home until it shatters, cutting his hands.

This scene is treated as the catalyst of Tom’s link to his equivalents of the other times.

We already understand that Tom is on an edge and his words and attitude and projected self-confidence are things to hide behind. How much Jan understands of that now we can’t tell. For the moment, they establish a routine whereby they can see each other, in Crew, once a month. Their relationship is established instantly every time. Jan tells Tom she loves him several times. We notice that he doesn’t say it back. They find their way to Barthomley Church, scene of the massacre, and to Mow Cop, where Tom finds the axe whose journey to that point we’ll learn later.

To Jan, the axe is of vital importance, a ‘Bunty’. It is a thing of beauty but most importantly it’s a thing of permanence. She, like Tom, is traumatised by her childhood, a life of never being in the same place for long, always moving, never having friends, never having anything of permanence. It is theirs, it symbolises the relationship they have, that is coming nearer it being sexual, though it’s significant that she has to ask Tom if her’s alright about that. Because Tom’s not.

On Mow Cop, Macey the kid hangs around the priestess but never touches her. He is lost in confusion since using the axe to kill, sees Macey and himself as separate, with Macey gone. once the priestess poisons his mates, Macey is free and they can leave together, the axe buried in a riverbank where Tjomas Rowley will find it.

In Barthomley, Thomas has a fit and fires a shot that brings the Army down on the villagers beseiged in the Church. In pursuit of the rebel John Fowler (James Hazeldine), son of the Rector, educated man but still inferior, the men are killed and the women are raped. But Thomas Venables (Michael Elphick) only wounds Thomas Rowley before he takes Madge, sparing him to live and care for her on Mow Cop, with the axe built into the chimney where Tom finds it in its collapsed and derelict state.

These couples escape together, though one woman, probably both, are pregnant by another. Will Tom and Jan repeat the pattern? We already know they won’t.

Tom begs a lift to London to intercept Jan. He sees her arrive in a nice dress, with a well-coiffeured and eveidently prosperous middle-aged man who sees her off in First Class with a kiss. At Crewe she is in her familiar pullover and jeans. Tom pretends not to know anything but treats her in an overbright and callous manner that signals to her instantly that something is wrong. In the keep of the folly on Mow Cop everything spills out. The man was the German wine-grower where Jan au-paired last Easter. She lost, or rather gave, her virginity to him. A lonely child, unable to commit, unable to feel valued, because her parents never gave her time to be anywhere, his warmth, his appreciation, touched her. She didn’t love him, she never revealed her real self to him, but she allowed him to ground her, to learn value in herself, he made her capable of loving Tom as she does. he was passing through London, concerned that she hadn’t answered his letters, was happy for her and Tom, treated her and them.

But the explanation doesn’t take account of Tom’s own traumas, his instability, his unwordly and unrealistic attitude to sex, brought in on him by life in a caravan that rocks and has no sound-proofing. Saturdays and Mess nights, his father begging, his mother who’s directed her possessiveness towards Tom in some inverted Oedipal manner, making his Dad beg. Tom has worn headphones to shut this out since he was eight.

Maybe a psychiatrist could straighten him out but though now Tom wants sex with Jan, it’s all he wants, out to catch up on something he can never catch up to because his own insecurities, instability, will always push his goal further away. Garner wrote book and film as an expression of the myth of Tam Lynn, with Janet required to hold on to Tam Lynn, just hold out throughout all his changes, to save him.

But Tom sold the axe, the Bunty, to a museum in which it’s forever untouchable, to pay for London. Tom’s misunderstood, has failed to understand Jan so thoroughly that, between that and his change from giver to taker, grab, grab, grab and always promising ‘next time’, not even she can hold on. Not really now not any more.

It strikes me that i’ve failed to do the film justice, that I’ve reviewed the book,  not the play. That’s the peril of hewing so closely to the original. Red Shift the film falls short of Red Shift the book, no matter its qualities, because it stands so close it can’t escape the book’s shadow.

The  acting is good throughout, and the cast includes a couple of actors on their way to greater recognition. everything stands and falls on Tom and Jan, and whilst Petcher, in his debut performance,  does what he can with a near impossible role, Dunlop is fantastic, inhabiting Jan with a comprehensive naturalness, making every line the product of a young woman reacting to horrendous circumstances.

There is more to both book and film that I’m able to convey without going into such depth that I might as well just copy out the book. Ultimately, I’m not able to separate the two.

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.


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.