Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

Lost ‘Two Ronnies’ sketch

January 25, 2017

Well, by “lost” I mean “not on Youtube” which, I realise, is a different thing altogether, but I’d love to see it again.

It’s one of their wonderful songs: they are street sweepers and that’s about all I can remember, other than it was hilarious.  Every now and then I check to see if someone has posted it, and it never comes up.

Instead, check this out.  It struck me that in this performance, it’s Ronnie Corbett that gets nearly all of the tricky wordplay to do.  Those of us of a certain vintage and origin will recall that Ronnie Barker was renowned for his facility with tongue-tripping scripts; here it’s Ronnie C who does it, and brilliantly, and in tune!

(The writing in this is superb, too.  Everything scanning and rhyming just as it should, with double entendres galore.)

 

“Blue Peter” and me

December 5, 2016

From the age of about six to twelve, one thing marked the passing days as surely as swimming with Dad on Saturday, church on Sunday, scouts on Friday, and that was – every Monday and Thursday on BBC-1 at 5.00pm – Blue Peter.

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Even the Blue Peter year had its own internal calendar: the lighting of the candles on the advent crown (made of old coat hangers and tinsel, natch), the warnings about pets on Guy Fawkes Night, and especially the Blue Peter “Special Expeditions”.

Every summer, Val, John and Pete (for I was lucky enough to be a child during the glory days of these iconic BP presenters) would go somewhere so exotic that we had barely heard of it.  The resulting films would be shown in the autumn.

Ceylon was one (right): It was not yet “Sri Lanka”.  Another was Bangkok, yet to acquire itsceylon current racy/sleazy reputation.

(As a kid, I imagined the whole production team having a two-month jolly holiday.  In truth they probably went for a single exhausting week.)

Anyway, it was their trip to Bangkok which earned me a coveted Blue Peter badge.  I had spotted in the Guinness Book Of World Records that the official place-name for Bangkok was incredibly long, indeed the longest in the world.

Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit

Instead of copying and pasting from Wikipedia (like I have just done) I wrote it all out by hand in a letter to Blue Peter.

My reward, a few weeks later, was to be watching the show, when Valerie Singleton announced,

“We have received a letter from a viewer called Ross Welford…”

The rest of her sentence I didn’t quite catch because I was yelling to everyone in the house to come and watch.

It got better.  Peter Purves then walked to the far side of the studio and began unrolling a long strip of vinyl  across the studio with the place-name printed on it, while he and John Noakes tried to pronounce it.

The next day I was famous at school. And for several weeks later.  In fact, only last year, someone mentioned it to me: “Do you remember when you were on Blue Peter?”  As if I could forget!

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Forty-odd years later, and last week, my name was read out on Blue Peter again, and again it was for writing something.  A book this time.

Time Travelling With A Hamster  is on the shortlist for the Blue Peter Book Award, so I found myself once more on the sofa waiting for Blue Peter to start.

It’s a bit different.  The theme music is just about recognisable as the old tune, and the presenters are exhaustingly energetic, but some things don’t change: the first item was about the London to Brighton vintage car rally, which BP must have done at least three or four times when was a kid.  Best of all, they still have the advent crown!

If I win, I get to go on the show.  Apparently  – and very unusually – every single episode since 1964 has been archived, so they might be able to dig up that item on Bangkok’s place name from some time in 1974.  I might even get a Blue Peter badge.

(Is it greedy to have two, do you think?)

 

Accent mystery solved!

November 21, 2016

In my last post,  I queried the accent given to the late Duke of Windsor by the actor Alex Jennings in the Netflix series “The Crown.’

A reader, Mr RT of New York, emailed an explanation for the apparent failure of the actor to reproduce faithfully the “received pronunciation” of the time, and to pronounce words such as “ask” and “after” with a short, northern”a”.

It is not, it turns out, a northern “a”, but an American one, and the actor was being scrupulously accurate.

Edward VIII, as we all know, gave up the crown in order to marry a divorcee, Mrs Wallis Simpson, an American.

It was noted at the time that he had adopted some aspects of American English.

Sir Henry “Chips” Channon, an MP during the abdication crisis of 1936, wrote in his famous diaries (Chips, The Diaries Of Sir Henry Channon, 1967):

…”Edward the beautiful boy-king, with his gaity and honesty, his American accent and nervous twitching, his flair and glamour, was part of history.”

Listen to him in the interview in the clip above.  It is a long, long way from being an “American accent” to my ear, although seventy years ago it may have sounded so.

There are, however, a number of distinctive pronunciations.

He says “subdued” with an American accent (“sub-dood” rather than “sub-dyood”);  “decades” is pronounced with the stress on the second syllable rather than the first; “commands” definitely has the short “a”.

Yet “after” is still “ah-fter”,  and “nephew” is the (now more-or-less unheard) “nevv-ew”.

(I don’t know what to make of his pronunciation of “windows” when he says “throw open the wind-uhs” of a stuffy court.  Or his distinct pronunciation of “retrospect” as “ree-trospect”.)

So that’s that mystery pretty much solved.  If you are still interested, listen to how Wallis Simpson speaks in this video clip.

For quite long passages, her American accent is barely audible.  She has the long, RP “a” for a start – the “a” that her husband seemed to be abandoning.  She was quite high society, was Wallis.  Accordingly, her speech was closer to British English than most of her compatriots.

I imagine that, by their deaths (his in 1972, hers in 1986) their accents may have met somewhere in the middle.

 

“The Crine” and an accent mystery

November 14, 2016

Mrs W and I are thee episodes into Netflix’s mega-budget offering “The Crown,” and are loving it.  (Though I am developing a slight obsession over one character’s accent.)

It’s not just that every shot is beautifully-composed, or that the costumes are gorgeous, and that even the CGI’d locations and sets are indistinguishable from – probably better than, actually – the real thing.

the-crown-lead-large_trans2oueflmhzzhjcyuvn_gr-cealqh55qdyqumvbbbc4cmIt’s the voices.  Claire Foy as the young Queen brilliantly replicates the cut-glass accent of the era; Matt Smith as the Duke of Edinburgh has the perfect upper-class drawl.

I can just about remember real people speaking like that, but only on television and the radio.  By the 1960s the accent was already becoming unfashionable, but clung on in the fruity tones of Maria Bird’s narration of Andy Pandy on the BBC’s Watch With Mother, and a few other broadcasting voices.

The accent is usually called RP – short for “received pronunciation”.  Why “received”?  According to Wikipedia, “received” here has the same sense as “approved” or  “accepted” (as in the phrase “received wisdom”), although my dialectology professor at University, the late Stanley Ellis, declared it was the accent that would allow the speaker to be “received” into upper class society.  In fact, standard RP – these days –  is pretty much a regional accent.  It is standard south-eastern English.  Being English, of course, it comes with an additional class signifier.  It co-exists with London English (“cockney” and others), and the accents of Essex and the surrounding counties.  It seems surprising in 2016, but it’s still true that the higher up the social ladder you are, the more likely you are to speak RP – in the south at any rate.  In reality, most natives are bilingual and can easily adapt their accent according to the circumstance.

“Heightened RP” is what the Queen speaks: an even more marked, “tighter” pronunciation in which a phrase such as “that black hat” becomes “thet bleck het”.  She’d pronounce “The Crown” like “The Crine” which is what I have taken to calling it.  It is a mark of the properly posh. Or was.

Almost no one speaks it now, not even the Queen herself.  Doubtless there are some people who cling onto it, but it sounds so mannered as to be comical.

But, like people who scour period dramas for solecisms like television aerials on roofs, or double yellow lines on the road, I find myself listening very carefully to the accents.

In episode one of The Crown, for example, the Duke of Edinburgh says, “OK, come along.”

I had to wind back and check (cue eye-rolling from Mrs W).  Surely no one, apart from Americans, said “OK” in 1951?

My main gripe, however, is this: how come Alex Jennings (in an otherwise brilliant turn as the oleaginous Duke of Windsor) kept getting his RP wrong?  He’s a native of Essex (I checked) an area with a solidly southern pronunciation, so why on earth did he keep pronouncing “ask” with a short, northern “a” instead of the southern “ah”?  Perhaps it’s deliberate, for some reason?

Update: he’s at it again in episode 4.  “Ask”, “answer”, and a couple of others (I wasn’t watching with a notebook in hand) – again and again, pronounced with a short “a”, yet – oddly, the word “last” was pronounced with the appropriate long “ah”.

I’m baffled.

Whistling: top 5 songs

September 14, 2016

I learnt to whistle over the summer, and accomplishment of which I’m much prouder than it really merits.

I don’t mean whistling a tune.  I’ve been able to do that since I was very little.  (My Gran would say, “Oh, it’s Whistling Rufus again!” which I assumed to be some performer but I’ve just looked it up and it’s the name of a song.)

No, I mean whistling through my fingers: the loud shriek used by everyone, it seems, but me. Over the years I had tried and tried but could only summon a pathetic rasp of air.

Then my son learnt to do it and I gave it another go – to no avail.  “No, dad,” he said, “Put your fingers like this,” and he showed me.  “Shove them further in your mouth.”

The result was instant!  I could do it.  I laughed with delight and did it again and again until everyone told me to shut up, including my son. They didn’t realise I had nearly fifty years of whistling to catch up on.

As for whistling tunes, well I’ve always loved a song with whistling in it.  Seriously, who doesn’t?  There are more than you might think.

Rolling Stone Magazine has produce a list of the fifteen best whistling songs of all time except it’s rubbish and doesn’t include the best whistling song ever (see below) so I’ve decided to make my own top 5.

5.  Lazy Song by Bruno Mars

There’s not all that much whistling in this, really -only three notes.  But, the whistling bit  was added for the single release after the album track was recorded, so there is a version without it.  It sounds completely wrong.

4  Bridge On The River Kwai Theme

There are loads of versions of this, but this is the full whistling one.

 

3. Magic Moments by Perry Como

There are crisper recordings of this song on YouTube, but this is the only live version that I could find.

 

2.  Jealous Guy by John Lennon

You’ve got to wait a bit for the whistling in this one.  It comes about halfway through, which makes me think he was stuck for a middle eight, so just whistled the main melody instead.  Works a treat!

  1.  I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman by Whistling Jack Smith

The finest whistling record ever, if you ask me, and it comes with some added trivia.  “Whistling Jack Smith” was in fact a performer called John O’Neill, who recorded it for a set fee and received no royalties.  It’s not even him on the video.  That’s an actor called Coby Well who was hired for Top Of The Pops.  John O’Neill also did the whistling bit in the theme for The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Game of Thrones spoilers: I give up!

June 16, 2016

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I was watching the news the other night and the newsreader said something like: “Coming up next, news of the opening game of the Euros as England faced Russia earlier today.  So if you don’t want to know the result, time to leave the room.”

It’s familiar enough stuff; we hear it all the time.  Then it struck me: how many people still do this?  In the age of Twitter, Facebook, text and so on, does anybody anywhere watch a football game on TV that has been played earlier in the day without knowing the score?

There was an episode of Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads back in the 70s which revolved around Bob and Terry’s desperate attempts to win a bet by remaining ignorant of the outcome of an England-Bulgaria game before it came on TV.  I can’t remember if they succeeded or not.

The-Likely-Lads-James-Bolam-and-Rodney-Bewes-539563Like Bob and Terry (above), I’m engaged in a struggle not to know what happens in Game Of Thrones, except my struggle is lasting for weeks, and it’s not working.

Thing is, I’m too tight-fisted to shell out for a full Sky subscription, and I want to wait until I can buy the box set on DVD.  That way I can binge-watch and save money.

Naturally, I don’t want to know what happens before I watch it, but it’s next to impossible if you’re even vaguely engaged with the news and social media.

Before series 6 had even started I knew that Jon Snow had not died properly and that Melisandre might have something to do with his resurrection.  It’s not as if I went looking for information – far from it.  But when you see headlines saying “Jon Snow: Is He Really Dead?” then you begin to wonder.

I know that Bran Stark  makes a comeback (though – to be honest – I could have guessed that much, otherwise where was he for all of series 5?)

I know that Theon Greyjoy/Reek makes it through at least almost the end of series 6 because there he was on the front of a magazine headlined “Alfie Allen – Thrones’ Great Survivor”.

And now I learn that there will be a big “Battle of the Bastards” because of a headline this morning.  I didn’t read the article but it can only be Roose Bolton and Jon Snow.

Gaaah!  Perhaps it’s all a devious scheme by Sky to get me to subscribe.  If so, I think it has worked.

Blackadder Rides Again

May 24, 2016

It’s hard – and painful – to think that Blackadder Goes Forth first appeared on TV in 1989.  I know.  Twenty seven years ago.

And for 27 years, those of us who loved it have wanted it to come back.  We have lapped up rumours and weighed the options.  Could it be Blackadder in WW2?  (Nah, too much like Blackadder 4)  How about Blackadder in the swinging 60s? (I’d love to see that!)

Either way, it never happened, and the likelihood has retreated still further with the debut of Upstart Crow (BBC2). Ben Elton has sort of recreated Blackadder 2 (the Elizabethan one) but instead of Rowan Atkinson playing Blackadder we have David Mitchell, whom I usually find tiresome, playing William Shakespeare.

The similarities are endless, and tantalising.  I find it impossible to watch Upstart Crow without thinking that Atkinson would make a far better fist of playing Shakespeare, or that the part of Shakespere’s rival, Robert Greene must have been written for Stephen Fry.  The actor Mark Heap certainly seems like he has Fry’s booming, bombastic Lord Melchett in mind.

What was going on?  Did Elton write this, hoping that his pals Rowan and Stephen would agree to be in it?  Could the BBC not afford them?  Did they turn it down because it would inevitably be compared with Blackadder?

And what of Spencer Jones, playing Kempe, an actor in Shakespeare’s troupe?  Jones actually impersonates Ricky Gervais.  This is not a performance “inspired by” Gervais, it’s an outright impersonation: gestures, voice, physical tics: the full David Brent.  It is very odd, and – after a minute or so – not at all funny.  Why would an actor do that?  Why would a director encourage an actor to do that?  Why would a writer as powerful as Atkinson allow a director to encourage a actor to do that?  It’s mystifying.

Thankfully, the rest of the show much better.  In fact it could end up being very funny.  So far.  I’ve only seen episode 1.

Instead of comparing it favourably or unfavourably to Blackadder, perhaps we should just accept that this is how Ben Elton writes sitcoms, regardless of who’s in them.

UPDATE: I’ve watched episode 2 now.  I don’t think I’ll be hurrying to watch more.  It was the same jokes again, more or less.  Some very funny lines and Shakespearean in-jokes that we can congratulate ourselves for understanding, but I’m still wishing that Will Shakespeare was played by Rowan Atkinson.  I suppose if there’s nothing else on…

Victoria Wood: my unfunny encounter

April 21, 2016

“She won’t be funny, you know,” said our executive producer.

I had booked Victoria Wood, who died yesterday, as a guest on a chat show I was producing for ITV, starring Jimmy Tarbuck (about which I have written before).  wood

She was a late booking, the first guest on the first show in 1996.  Two days before the live recording, EastEnders star and Carry-On favourite Barbara Windsor had pulled out, and none of the other guests was big enough to be promoted to the top spot.

Elaine, our researcher, had a passing acquaintance with Victoria Wood, with whom she had worked previously.  I begged Elaine, and Elaine used up her entire stock of showbiz credibility to beg Victoria: “Please rescue our show.  It’s a personal request from Jimmy who is a huge fan.”

(Not strictly true.  Tarby was a fan – who isn’t? – but had no idea of the difficulties were were having booking guests to his show with a tiny guest budget).

Graham Stuart, the executive producer (now Graham Norton’s producer, so he knows a bit about talk shows) delivered the pessimistic verdict on our booking.  “She’s only funny doing ‘material’ and she’s not going to do her material for £100 and her bus fare.”

I prayed he’d be wrong.  He wasn’t.

Poor Victoria.  On the night, she was pleasant enough, but had the definite look of someone who was there because she was doing a favour for someone.  Far too well-mannered to give monosyllabic answers, she instead engaged in pleasant chit-chat with Jimmy Tarbuck who did his considerable best to make the whole thing funny.  He fed her lines, and she batted them away, he asked her the sort of questions to which virtually every comedian has stock replies: who were your comedy influences, what makes you laugh, what was your worst ever gig?  No dice.

She was unfailingly polite, nice…and unfunny. Afterwards, Tarby was baffled.  A born laughter-maker, he had – has – a wealth of jokes and one-liners with which he could fill the gaps, but he couldn’t understand why he was having to do all the work.

In the edit, we somehow extracted a vaguely diverting five minutes from an excruciating 15 minute interview.

I read in an obituary this morning that she was considered a little dour off-stage.  This seems a bit harsh.  But comics are seldom funny all the time; the ones that try to be are – in my experience – very tiresome.

 

So because I think she was hilarious and gifted, here are a couple of clips.  The first is Victoria Wood’s song, “Let’s Do It”.  I thought I was the only one who loved this song.  Turns out everyone does.  I would have known, only middle-aged men don’t often get to talk about how much they like the comic songs of Victoria Wood.  Listening to it on the news last night, it reminded me of Noel Coward’s song, “Nina from Argentina”.  Both have fabulously complicated lyrics, and both are – essentially – about the same subject: lack of desire.

I’ve got a book of Victoria Wood’s songs somewhere.  In the foreword, she professes that she hates performing “Let’s Do It” – far too many words to remember!  Can’t say I blame her, but it’s great fun to listen to.

 

 

A gem on every page

April 4, 2016

Fifteen years ago I was holiday with my then-girlfriend (now wife) in Zahara de los Atunes in southern Spain.  Three things are especially memorable.  Mrs W told me she was pregnant; Islamist psychos flew aeroplanes into the Twin Towers in New York (the horror of which we watched unfold on a television in a village bar); and I read Stephen King’s “On Writing”.

kingThe copy that I read then has long been lost.  Perhaps I threw it out: I remember finding its presence a little intimidating. There is so much good advice and encouragement included in it that it seemed to be reproaching me for not following it.  How could I have read this book yet still be slogging away as a producer of largely crap TV, instead of actually, you know, writing?

Then someone last week tweeted me one of its countless bon mots.  Perhaps it was:

Fiction is the truth within the lie.  Or

Description begins in the writer’s imagination but should finish in the reader’s.

I can’t remember.  Stephen King quotes are pretty common on Twitter.  Anyway, I bought it again and stayed up till 1.00 a.m. last night, rediscovering the wisdom and fun in its pages.  I laughed at this one:

We are writers; we don’t ask one another where we get our ideas from.  We know we don’t know.

Not only is it true (however unsatisfying, “I don’t know,” is the only answer to the question “Where do your ideas come from?”) it revealed something to me that had till now only been on the edge of my realisation.

And that is: I am a writer.  The way that I smiled in recognition at that quote means that I am a member of a club that includes Stephen King!  A lowly, just-published, starting-out, probationary member perhaps, but still…

Whether or not you like Stephen King books (and I think everyone should read at least one or two just so that you know something of one of the world’s most popular novelists) he’s pretty illustrious company.

He’s bossy too.

The road to hell is paved with adverbs. 

I have  just picked up Time Travelling With A Hamster and opened it at random.  One one double page I found two adverbs, “expectantly”and”warily”.

Sorry, Stephen!

 

 

Master of deception

January 17, 2016
derren

Derren Brown: is the joke on us?

A lifetime love of magic and illusion means it’s no surprise that I’m a fan of Derren Brown, and especially the way that, by pretending to be totally open about how he achieves the remarkable effects he does, he has avoided being “exposed” on YouTube as many more conventional magicians are these days.  In truth, he isn’t totally open about his methods.  At least not always.

A recurring theme in his work has been his (apparent) ability to persuade, trick or otherwise get people to do things they may not otherwise do.  Pushed To The Edge (Channel 4, UK) was a highly sophisticated version of  the old stage hypnotists who who persuaded volunteers that they could eat a raw onion like an apple.

But this went much, much further in persuading three people to commit a murder by pushing someoe off a tall building.

No one died.  Unbeknownst to the volunteers their “victim” was on a safety harness.  The edgeparticipants had been drawn into an elaborate and minutely-planned deception, to demonstrate – in a take on the old “Milgram Experiment” – that humans’ desire to comply, to obey authority figures, will push them into some pretty dark places.

If all was as it appeared on the programme, it would be very, very disturbing.  I, for one, was duly disturbed.  I mean you’re getting someone to believe they had murdered someone.  Well, until Derren turned up like a latter-day Jeremy Beadle, to tell them that they had been had.  Erm…ha ha?

Except…I don’t believe it.

I think  that the joke is on us, the viewers.

Here’s why:

It seems obvious that there is a real risk that convincing someone that they are  a murderer when they are not might well be, to say the least, massively upsetting. Short or even long-term psychological damage?  Imagine the lawsuits!  Besides, it’s a truly horrible thing to do.

So I think it’s (nearly)  all been scripted and staged. A fabulous, well-thought-out hoax.

Remember: the one volunteer that was followed all the way through the 90-minute show did not go through with the murder.  The three who did were included in a montage sequence in the last part of the show. They were, I contend, actors.

I think we got the show Derren, and his writers, and producers, and Channel 4 wanted.

Just as well made, but  easier, less cruel, and a lot safer.

And he is, after all, a self-professed deceiver, by trade.