Thursday, 7 February 2013

We need to talk about Derek.

What’s your favourite version of Nessun Dorma? I bet it’s that Pavarotti one. It was the anthem to the Italia World Cup in 1990, Using it was a brilliant editorial decision (if you’re prepared to overlook the fact that it was used a few months before on a Pirelli advert) and it brought a stunning piece of music to a new audience.

Two years later, as a timid 19-year-old working at Radio Five, I found a new version of Nessun Dorma, a promo CD sent into the office. It was the same lavish orchestral score, but, instead of being sung by Pavarotti, it was being sung by Neil Sedaka.

He had written his own lyrics.

It’s a CD I treasure. It’s almost majestic in its arrogance. Here are the lyrics to the refrain (typed from memory):

To touch the face of friends and loved ones
To hear the laughter and to feel... the pain,
Oh what a miracle, this would be
If only we
Could turn the haaaaands of time...
Turning back... The hands of... Ti-ime...

It was so easy to imagine him typing through the tears as he brought these beautiful words to life, so in love was he with his creation.

But hey, let’s talk about Derek.

Formerly, of course 'Derek the Mong' from the 11 O'Clock Show. There’s little point in raking over the issue of is-this-offensive-to-people-with-learning-difficulties. You will doubtless have your own opinion (which I’d love to hear, by the way). In the first episode we are confronted with the issue of ‘What’s wrong with Derek?’ and, perhaps a little evasively, we are told that he’s really, one of a kind. He hasn’t heard of autism (and, incidentally, neither does he display any signs of autism) and, like his employer, it seems, we are simply supposed to shrug our shoulders and leave our curiosity at that.

And Derek is one of a kind. A curious combination of nervous tics, gurning, and conjugating his verbs like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins ‘I draws what Oi loikes, an’ Oi loikes what Oi drew’. But his eyes are alert, playing to camera in a way I have seen somewhere before... David Brent, conceivably? Derek has a simplicity to him, a cheeky, playful mischievous side, and - you know what? A bloody heart of gold, mate. A big old heart, made of solid bloody gold. Bless him.

It’s set in an old folks’ home. The supporting cast is a curious collection. There is Dougie, a somewhat cantankerous caretaker who is mates with Derek, even though the two of them treat each other with seeming contempt. There is Kev, a man who doesn’t work there, but simply attempt to have sex with everything in sight, including the inmates. And there is Hannah, the boss, described by Derek as the nicest most kindest person ever. That she may be, but I find her staff screening policy pretty abysmal, letting a sex maniac infest her Care Home.

The character who, for me, had the most potential, appeared in episode two, a young woman called Vicky who had been given Community Service order, even though it’s now called Community Payback. She came in with an attitude. Holli Dempsey played the part brilliantly - in fact the cast is generally fantastically talented, and perform as well as they can within the confines of the script, and I look forward to Ruth Bratt’s appearance later in the series as Derek’s girlfriend. Within a week or so of arriving, the Care Home and the brilliant people there has worked its brilliant magic and Vicky thinks it’s brilliant and has gone from juvenile delinquent to wanting to volunteer at the Home next week because it’s so bloody brilliant there.

And here, for me, is where Neil Sedaka’s Nessun Dorma comes in. You get the sense that the writer (who, in the case of Derek, happens to be the director and star) is so deeply in love with what he’s writing that he’s lost any awareness of how it will appear to the audience. And the way it appears is pretty clunky.

My problem with Derek is that I felt a bit patronised as a viewer. I was never really allowed to make up my own mind about how I felt about anything or anyone in the show. I was told that Hannah is the nicest kindest lady. I was told that Derek is the nicest bloke in the world, and that I shouldn't have any further curiosity about his history thank you. Apparently, the Care Home is the most bloody brilliant place ever, even though I saw little evidence to support that. 

I was never allowed to form my own conclusion. In a very passive-aggressive way, the script pushed me into line, leaving no moments of ambiguity, no opportunity to make my own way through the material presented. I’ll compare it to The Office, simply because the format is so similar: no-one ever had to tell us David Brent was an arse - it was as clear as day. No-one had to tell us Tim was a nice guy. We could figure it out for ourselves through their actions.

Episode Two of Derek ended with a long tracking shot across some of the old lags in the Home, dozing, intercut with home movies from the fifties, presumably their faded dreams. It was a little too soon to be shown these intimate memories, since we’d hardly exchanged a word with them and we didn't know who they were. But it did go to show that old people, like Derek, are bloody brilliant, too. It’s all bloody brilliant, actually. It’s all so bloody brilliant. GOOD FOR DEREK.

If only we
Could turn back the haaands of time...

Monday, 13 June 2011

Television Centre

That special twinge you feel when remembering the time you fell off your bike. That's the feeling. That's the feeling you feel when you remember the Dark Ages of television, when the BBC threw away priceless recordings because they weren't perceived as valuable at the time, with no thought of posterity. That faint wincing at a pain that is long passed, but still nasty to remember.

It was a ridiculous thing to do. We can talk about the gift of hindsight, but there was no justifying it. And it's good to know the BBC will never make that mistake again. I myself remember feeling a brief flush of immortality when I got my own series commissioned on BBC Radio 7, and I realised I had finally made it into the BBC Archive, the Great British cultural Ark of our age.

Times change. Things move on. And the BBC is moving to Salford.

I could launch off on a rant about its futility; I could ask what celebrities from overseas doing the publicity circuit will really bother to go all that way from London, where everything else is, but I understand the political necessity for the move, I guess. I am prepared to accept it.

But not the selling off of Television Centre.

What a futile gesture. And what a senseless waste of money. Why build new television studios when there are perfectly serviceable ones already in existence? But, more to the point, what cultural sacrilege.

Television Centre opened in 1960, and for over fifty years, it formed the great backdrop to a huge proportion of British culture. Television Centre is British television. I remember the first time I went there when I was about seven. My uncle was based there, doing clever backroom stuff (also a travesty, but let's not get into that now) and I remember my heart thumping with excitement at the sets in storage, the corridors, the breathless hush of transmission areas, the BLUE PETER GARDEN! I thought I would burst.

I didn't dream that twenty years later, I would work there full-time. And it took months to get rid of the adrenalin that flooded my chest every time I passed through Stage Door reception, where as a child I watched Noel Edmonds running about, or John Noakes, or, well, anyone on any show I cared about.

The point is, Television Centre, for generations of people now, has been the British Hollywood. It is the centre for Showbusiness. It is the hub. It is the place everyone feels they'll end up one day if they make it. I would like to see how many guided tours they manage to pack out at the new Salford centre. Or how many there would be of any other broadcasting premises anywhere. Granada Studios was a worthy contender for a while, and deserves respect. And should be rightly proud of its northern heritage. But in what other country does the biggest broadcaster operate from outside the cultural capital?

I am heartbroken. The BBC is carrying its cross up the hill, to the catcalls and jeers of its detractors. It's the same as the selling off of County Hall, or the shutting down of our libraries. It is a repellent all-for-show gesture that should give us all pause for thought about the surety of our cultural legacy for future generations.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

National Poetry Day

It gives me great pleasure to say

It’s national poetry day

But Carole Ann Duffy

She always looks scruffy

It goes to show Rhyme doesn’t pay

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Lost, the Finale, Part 2

Oh right, turns out they were all dead. Brilliant.

Oh, and Lucy was right, by the way.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Lost, the Finale, Part 1

So it is finally drawing to a close, at least it is in my house right now.

I am halfway through the penultimate episode.

My prediction stands, as it has for the last series and a half, that the show will end with slo-mo shots of all the cast walking out of the arrivals lounge as if nothing happened, with the stupid annoying major-seventh piano and string chords plonking pointlessly about.

So far everybody is trying to kill everybody, and we have been treated to a lovely montage of Sun and Gin alternately hugging and blowing up, as they have done for the last 32 shows or so.

By an AMAZING turn of luck, two characters paddling a canoe in the middle of an ocean, and on their way to blow up a plane have BY PURE CHANCE bumped into a pilot clinging to some wreckage. So now they can fly home. Or maybe they can't. Or maybe they will and then we'll have a flash forwards and they won't have really. And none of it matters because it will end with them all WALKING OUT OF THE ARRIVALS LOUNGE.

Maybe except Jack.

Watching this show has been like picking a scab once a week. It doesn't get better. It's just a little niggling irritant. But soon it will be over, and my GOD, Abrams, there'd better be a payoff, or I'll be forced to re-evaluate the roughly fours days of human life I have spent waiting patiently for almost any kind of payoff ever.

Desmond is talking all religiously about 'going where the light's brightest', as we race to an unspectacular finale to the ultimate 'In a dark, dark house, there's a dark dark whatever...'

And Jack and Sawyer are playing Wife Swap. I don't think they'll agree about after school activities. Or how often they should shave. Or whatever.

The ever-brilliant Lucy's theory is that it's an elaborate version of, and they've just completed the most gruelling episode of Blind Date ever. Let's see how you two got on. Oh, you punched each other and shagged each other's girlfriends. A lorra lorra borrocks.

The show is rapidly turning into the end of a Big Brother episode, where everybody's being let out of the Big Brother Island-House one by one, and being shown a montage of their Best Bits.

Desmond has spent more time lodged in holes than Dale Winton.

I apologise.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Ok, the transformation is COMPLETE

Just over a year ago, I went on stage every day in Edinburgh for a month and labelled Mac users 'Pretentious Tossers'. Immediately afterwards, I went and bought a Macbook. And I love it. I love it with the zeal only the newly-converted born-again Christian could love it with.

And this week, my journey to the Dark Side is complete. Like The Fly, or the bloke in District 9, it is Over.

I have an iPhone.

And I love it. I do, I do, I do. I DO believe in fairies! I DO!

For fuck's sake. I know. And I loved my Nokia N95.


Click on the title link to hear the end result of a joyful evening pissed up the wall. Hoorah!

ALL DONE ON MY PHONE. Fuck's sake.

If the link doesn't work, go to or click on the little widget thing down a bit and on the right a bit on this page. I've made it downloadable. So that other users of wankphones may use it as their ringtone.


Sunday, 6 September 2009

Can I Offset that against tax?

So this weekend I popped my Festival Cherry (apart from Edinburgh) and went to the Offset Festival, surely the best alternative rock festival, in Hainault, in early September, in the world.

I was there to perform in the comedy tent. This is the comedy tent:

It wasn't as glamorous as it looks, though. Anyway, the lovely Bob Slayer was looking after things there, and I have to say, it was him at his finest. What he does best is wade through chaos. It's like fighting fire with fire.

Anyway. I had a little time to kill before I was due on, so I decided to drink in the heady atmosphere of my first ever FESTIVAL.

I have no point of comparison here. I can't say, 'Oh, it's like a smaller version of Glastonbury' because I have no idea. I can't say 'It's like Latitude without the platitudes' because I've never been. I think I would best describe it as being like a school fete. If the fete had been organised by the goths in the sixth form.

It was nice to see some families there - it's always rather cheering to see more than one generation having a good time. There were a couple of families picnicking in front of the main stage. It was nice to see their little 4-year-olds bopping away to the band. I'm hoping the lyrics didn't fully sink in though. The band was singing this:

I wanna fook you oop...
I wanna fook you about...

I can't think where little Levi and Poppy picked that up from...

So I sat and chewed self-consciously on my veggieburger, and looked down at my ridiculous silver shoes and my ridiculous bright blue shirt and my ridiculous jacket and my ridiculous ukulele (paranoid about leaving it anywhere at gigs since the last one was stolen at the World Music Awards) and felt, well, ridiculous.

I saw one group of young women staring at me with what I first thought was contempt, but then I realised was more a sort of pitying curiosity. One of them, Claire, or Clare, or possibly Cleadghfgh in Gaelic, came over and spoke to me, mainly about my ukulele. And her ukulele. And her friend Maeve's ukulele. And then I met her friends, Maeve and Ella, and I felt pathetically grateful to have someone to talk to, and to be taken under their collective wing. I also felt very lucky that they weren't part of the apparent fancy-dress competition that seemed to be going on, namely the see-who-can-make-themselves-look-like-they're-dying-of-heroin-addiction-the-most.

Anyway, I went and did the stand-up and they very charitably came and watched me go down in flames. Ok, that sounds more dramatic than it was. It went fine. Three people walked out after about two minutes though, and when I made the mistake of asking if it was because they were under age and my material had a strong sexual content, they shouted "No, it's because you're shit"...

I don't think anyone there was up for what one might term "jollity". My joke about the aperitif Kir attracted two rather comforting laughs from some middle-class allies.

Anyway. We staggered away, my newly-adopted support group and I. I went to buy some booze (had to drive miles to find anywhere, and all they sold was alcohol on special offer. You couldn't buy it normally. You had to buy it in threes, sixes or sevens...)

I returned and delivered it to the tent, and then rather tediously hummed and hawed over What to Do Next.

I didn't know if I would be required back on before 9pm, or after 11pm (there was a two-hour break). And so I waited for a text to come through, and when I hadn't had one by 9.30 I decided to get drunk. Always the best plan.

There then comes a happy haze of face painting, and chips, and BURGER SAUCE what the FUCK is that and can you INJECT IT, and, well, drinking, and it all being so jolly and fun you could almost forget you were in the middle of a scene that bore a striking similarity to Darfur:

Welcome to District 9.

My hosts very generously apportioned me a corner of their tent in which to hunker down for the night, and I went and fetched my duvet. Although most of the night was spent with my back pressed against the wet tent walls, listening to bongos, retching, and some of the following choice snippets of dialogue:

"...Well, I just figured since I'd paid for petrol, you'd pay the camping fees..."

HIM: Have you got like a best mate?
HER: Well, I've got loads of friends...
HIM: Yeah, but you must have like one best friend, is it?
HER: Yeah, I have. But she's a prick...

"He's blatantly chucked up all over his sleeping bag..."

I now understand why people take drugs. I would have taken anything. I nearly woke up one of my new friends and begged them to punch me unconscious for the rest of the night.

At 7.25am peace finally reigned. The bongos stopped. The generators for the floodlights switched off.

That's when Ella started blowing her nose.

Cleadghghgf left. She kindly returned the ear plugs I had given her, which was very thoughtful, but I am sort of thinking they are hers now.

When Maeve woke up, we had forgotten about the moustache Ella had drawn on her last night, and I nearly screamed.

We decided to go and get breakfast off-site, because, really, anything to get away from the scenes of human detritus that lay all around us. As me, Maeve and Ella left for the car, some blokes from a nearby tent spotted my uke and hailed us:

"No WAY! WE'VE got a uke as well!" I know, mate. What are the chances, eh? Two pretentious tossers in one festival. Whoda thunkit. I don't want to own a ukulele any more. I love that little instrument. But I don't want to be part of this Venn Diagram overlap any more.

"You should have come over to our tent last night - we had bongos and my uke - we could have JAMMED!"

I could have "jammed" my ukulele sideways up his mincing little anus for every one of the six fucking hours I had just spent listening to his stupid fucking bongos. I said:

"Yeah. That would have been sensational."

And so we got to the car. As we approached, I said to Maeve and Ella "I'm sorry my car's full of crap", suddenly remembering it was full of stuff from Edinburgh I hadn't got around to emptying. But things were looking up, we were about to bust out of there, the wind in our hair, not a care in the world.

But we now get to the crux of the experience for me. There is something I would like to know. I would really like an answer to this question. This is the question that will haunt me above all else from this weekend, more than questions like 'Why did I think any of this would be a good idea?', or 'What the fuck do I think I am doing?' or 'is it really really too late to train as a dentist?' No. This is, as far as I am concerned the question of the weekend:

Who shat in my car?

That's really the one. The other ones I can sort of work through by myself, or with plenty of counselling. But, 'who shat in my car?' is the one I don't think is ever going to get resolved satisfactorily.

As we got in, Ella was lucky enough to put her foot into something a bit slidey on the passenger side floor. And it was a human turd.

Oh, capital. What a perfect finish.

Nothing stolen - laptop in the boot - all fine. Car locked. No signs of disturbance. But there, unmistakably, as we looked on and dry heaved - was a Snickers bar-sized human shit.

I have gone through every scenario I can think of. I wondered if it was the parking attendant there, who had leant through the passenger-side window, and told me she hadn't had a break in hours - well, she'd have had to dump it somewhere. I have quizzed my parents, wondering if one of them had done it for fun on the drive back from Edinburgh last week ("I promise I won't be angry, I'd just like to know").

The problem is, I could see Maeve and Ella running every scenario in their heads, too, and jumping to the most plausible explanation; namely that the shitten finger of suspicion pointed squarely at me.

Which, you know, who can blame them? Unless some sort of weird Fight Club type scenario is happening in my head (and really, by now, I am prepared to accept that - it isn't impossible that the last month has caused me to split into multiple personalities, of which one is a mad car-shitting maniac) I don't recall ever pooing into my own car footwell.

I don't want to go into it too much, but there are some very Bermuda Triangle-esque elements to it. It was unquestionably laid there fresh, c'est a dire done in place. But no signs of any peripheral processes, oh look, this is all disgusting now, and I am going to stop.

We found a pub and I washed my hands five times. Only cremation can clean me enough now. I do not want to exist as matter any more.

I didn't stay to do my spot today. Sorry Bob. Please understand. Once someone has taken a shit in your car, it's hard to rally.

Really might not do another festival.