Tuesday, October 12, 2010

British Broadcasting Calamity

I am a big fan of the Commonwealth Games. Known as the friendly games of course it feels to me like the Olympics used to be and are all the better for that. There are still amateurs competing, the chance of the postman to represent his or her country with pride. Real people doing remarkable things. A chance for the small nations to shine, a chance for the minor less glamorous sports to raise their profile and demonstrate the skills and dedication they also require. For me the Olympics has become a rather ghastly vehicle for commercialism, cynical professionalism, and the power of money to dominate.

But....the Beeb seem to have lost faith in the Commonwealth Games, or to be more to the point lost the art and point of sports broadcasting. Not only is the coverage very poor generally, there is far too much emphasis on the professional “glamorous” sports and they spend more time doing fancy inserts than showing us the action. Maybe they need to justify having that mumbling American Michael Johnson as a a host – a man so good he cant get a job in his own country. Lets take last nights highlights programme as an example. One hour long to cover a busy day at the games. You would expect lots of variety covered, lots of time trying to cover the remarkable achievements of the ordinary men and women who represent the home nations and pay that licence fee.

What do the Beeb do – well they spend 15 minutes – so a quarter of the time talking about an Australian sprinter who won an event that lasted less than 15 seconds. They even showed the Australian TV trailer for the event! So on it went on more athletics for half an hour. Now had none of the home nations done much that day then okay fill the time, but to be honest there was plenty going on. Lets not forget for example two golds – one for England one for Scotland. Oh but I forgot, they were amateurs, probably taking unpaid leave from their jobs to compete in sports that they really do have to sacrifice things for – not the “sacrifice” the lottery funded professional speak so glibly of. So did these champions get mentioned – oh maybe one minutes coverage between them. And for why – well they were in Bowls and shooting – clealry not sexy enough for the shallow Beeb. Shame on the beeb, and shame on us for not melting their phone lines in complaint.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Does Today have a Tomorrow?

The Today Programme has really hit a new low - today! It has been noticeable that the quality of news reporting on radio has declined in recent years. The World Service is a poor refection of its former self, but the Today programme, that supposed flagship of Radio 4, has really gone downhill. Some of the decline is down to decisions made at a corporation level - notably the production of news items for consumption on both TV and Radio. The result being the appearance of news items on Radio that are actually produced primarily for TV and so we are subjected to stories where sections are filled with disembodied and disjointed sounds that, when seen with the accompanying pictures on TV, make some sense, but when played without commentary on Radio are just, well junk. But the editorial decision of the Today editors are as much to blame. On a regular basis we have to listen to extended advertorial for other BBC programmes masquerading as news. So, this morning we have, as usual on a Monday, to listen to an extended piece about tonight's Panorama. Now don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with the Panorama programme per se (although it has to be said that Panorama has been systematically dumbed down over the past 10 years) but the fact is that its content is not news, it is self declared news. To compound this in a prime slot post 8am we have to suffer a piece about the rise of Stand Up Comedy. Once again lets be clear I have nothing against Stand Up comedy - I am a big fan - but it is hardly news! And to add insult to injury we are told this is the first of a three part series on Comedy. Three parts!!!!

This concerns me for lots of reasons, not least that it seems to indicate that Radio 4 believe our appetite for news - and I mean real news - and analysis - and I mean proper analysis - is in decline. "The audience cant take it" seems to be their view because, trust me there is plenty of news and analysis out there to be covered if they chose to do it. Instead they seem to believe that we want some parochial magazine show. So Today is declining into a flabby self satisfied and safe magazine programme - no doubt with sofa type sound effects soon.

What is particularity worrying for me is that it seems more and more like the USA where the absence of good news programming amongst a plethora of channels is staggering. One of the consequences of this is a population very poorly in formed about what is happening outside of the borders of their own country. But perhaps that is it. Radio 4 has become obsessed with the USA - we even had to sacrifice Go4it to the truly risible Americana. So maybe that is the plan – BBC may turn into FOX News – oh heaven help us!
I will go back to Tunbridge Wells now.

Monday, July 12, 2010

I hope its all over, is it now?

Now maybe it’s just me. Maybe I am just getting old but the coverage of the World Cup final irked me a bit. It’s not that we had two of our main channels covering exactly the same event – although that was ridiculous. Its not that it was incredibly dull- but that’s soccer for you. No, it’s because of the hosts. For some reason the BBC anchors decided it was time to dress up. Collar and tie time. Admirable but I have to ask – why now after being slobs for the last four weeks? The ITV crew were, as usual, slovenly. You would think that Adrian Childs – with all that cash he reputedly gets (not entirely sure what for) that he could afford some smarter clothes. So, The ITV guys stay slovenly as expected. Should I admire the consistent and ugly dress down of ITV? As for the Beeb, pleased though I am that they smarten up their act it just shows that they can do it when they put their mind to it, making the previous poor presentation doubly loathsome.

Now I have very little positive to say about Sky - really very, very little. But one thing I will say is that they do have standards of personal presentation that other TV channels would do well to pay attention to. Sky seem to remember that they are entering the homes of millions as guests and so should be suitably respectful and that is conveyed in the way they dress.

I might seem a bit old fashioned but to me its still the same in business. I have always taken a view that if you turn up to a meeting with me looking for work or custom but dressed like you have just got out of bed don’t expect to be leaving with anything other than a flea in the proverbial lug.

Does that mean I would do business with Murdoch ….oh my word!!!!

Let me think this through again……?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Makassar, De Gaulle and Tuak

Apparently it is 70 years to the day that two of the most memorable wartime broadcasts were made those being Churchill's finest Hour Speech and De Gaulle's first broadcast to the Free French from the UK. The impact and galvanising effect of these pieces of spoken word is as we know immense and once again reminds us of the power of the human voice to inspire and affect us is so many ways and in so many parts of our life.

I have to say these pieces of historical magnificence are such a contrast to the rather poor quality of speech and debate we heard yesterday at the Congressional inquiry at which Tony Hayward was pilloried. Now let me say for the record I have no sympathy for big corporates that do wrong and ride roughshod over ethical standards in pursuit of profit, and BP looks as guilty as hell so they deserve all they get. But it is the hypocrisy and arrogance and rather poor rhetoric of of the interrogators that got me. If only there had been such outcry over Bhopal. But of course there are some memorable appearances before the committee- George Galloway springs to mind.

On a more personal note the reminder of the French Government in exile took me back to a time some 20 years ago when I spent a good deal of time travelling in Indonesia. I travelled alone and reached some pretty interesting places – notably staying with a Dayak group in central Borneo. But my self satisfaction at being something of an intrepid traveller was rather punctured when I met a Dutch lady called Nina in central Sulawesi. She was in her late 60's, diabetic and had some difficulty walking having been run over by a bus in an earlier expedition. Her sight was not all that it might be – as a result of her diabetes – but she was not to be daunted in her desire to travel. Nina was full of fascinating tales having spent part of her childhood in Indonesia, and being part of the Free Dutch group in exile in England during the war. She could tell many a fascinating tale and we dodged the torrential rain and potent red Tuak rice wine in tumble down bars as nasty creepy crawlies climbed the walls and occasionally our legs. She spoke of the occasions she had met De Gaulle as well as part of the community of exiles in London at the time all in her quiet and soft English tempered by the Dutch accent. We lost touch and I have no idea where she is now or even if she is till with us, but it is a fond memory and if you read this Nina, yes I did look for the Makassar Schooners – did you find that Captain?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Little Ships

The anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuations comes round to its 70th iteration today and the “little ships” are setting off from Ramsgate to commemorate the remarkable events that have entered very much into the very psyche of the Brits.

For me I cant help but think about Mrs Miniver when I hear about the ships setting off. Walter Pidgeon departing from the, very, middle class boat club leaving the absolutely lovely Greer Garson to fend off marooned German fliers. But since last Sunday it will also make me think of The Snowgoose. The BBC ran a Neglected Classics scheme as part of its Book Club programme where they asked listeners to vote for a neglected classic book from a list of nominations recommended by a number of authors. The winner was The Snowgoose by Paul Gallico as recommended by Michael Morpurgo and the prize was to have the book dramatised for radio as part of the Classic Serial series. The marvellous production was a tremendous vindication of the competition. At TESCAPE we are very much of the view that there is a rich vein of forgotten classics out there and we intend to bring them to the fore in the coming years. So hip hip huzzah for the little ships and a well done to BBC for reminding us of the fact that it doesn't have to be famous to be good.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

It's Just a Ride

I had the immense good fortune to get a ticket for “American – the Bill Hicks Story” on its opening day Friday 14th (thank you lovely wife) at the GFT and haven’t stopped laughing since.

The film, for those than don’t know, is the story of Bill’s life which was tragically cut short by pancreatic cancer at the age of 32. It is a fantastic insight into the development of his work and includes snatches of the act that made him such a legend. I still remember that feeling of jaw dropping astonishment when I first saw him perform at the Just for Laughs comedy festival in Montreal. In an instant you realised you were in the presence of genius, pure Rock&Roll. I took every opportunity to see him from that point on and I was privileged to see him on his final UK tour when his act was absolutely at its zenith and though that show was filmed I have seen very little of it air on TV – just a bit too edgy for general consumption even now.

I can’t recommend the film highly enough and once you have watched it go out and buy all the DVDs of his shows. Bill was a prophet and seer, a truth seeker and speaker, a burster of hypocrisy bubbles and an inspiration, and if laughing is as good for you as they say then he was a fitness guru to boot.

Thanks Bill and like you say man – “it’s just a ride!”

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Get out (of Islington) more

Lots of commentators and members of the chattering political classes – of which I guess I am one – are getting very snobbish about the the BBC boat during the election coverage last week, Andrew Neil played host with a suitably piratical air to a group of “celebs” who made comment on events unfolding through the night.

Rachel Cook, in her article Ship of Fools in the New Statesman, is the just the latest in a long line of critics. Now I though it was a rather daft exercise but I am at odds with what seems to be the general criticism. Generally the view of the nay sayers is that the “celebs” were uniformed or were giving opinions about “weighty political issues” that were judged on superficial or trite considerations rather than some forensic examination of manifestos.

I am not in the slightest surprised that the vast majority of voters are not obsessed with these matters and vote on the basis of what people like Rachel might think are unimportant considerations, and often blind tribalism. That's the way it is, that is democracy.

What I found rather disturbing about it was that the BBC thinks that the views of “Celebrities” should be any more important than the man in the Clapham omnibus who cleary hadn't been invited into the HellOK crew. For me “celebrity obsession” is far more depressing than the foibles of universal suffrage.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Spoken word a winner - again!

David Attenborough has won the Sony Radio Award for Speech Broadcaster of the Year. Described as “a masterclass in story-telling, a truly compelling listen and a classic example of vivid mind pictures created through beautifully crafted words, and delivered with a mesmerising and re-assuring voice” I assume this is for his contribution to A Point of View on Radio 4 – but I could be wrong. It is a fabulous collection of spoken word material and is a tribute to the man’s versatility given his most well recognised achievement in a remarkable life has been producing extraordinary visual material – albeit with a distinctive voiceover. The splendid thing about it is the way it is unmistakably Attenborough, and the anecdotal style is wonderfully intimate. And for anyone who thinks this is easy stuff well Attenborough himself says radio is tougher than TV and you only have to listen to Simon Schama recent efforts to see how easy it is to come very unstuck – sorry Simon.

Hat tip the ongoing success of Doctor Kermode in the same awards. On ya mate!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Time and change

It seems very likely that one of the outcomes of today’s election is that I will shortly be living in a country whose prime minister is younger than I am. This is surely a right of passage that has to be marked – but how? My immediate thought would be to go out and have a serious bender – but that is surely to juvenile behaviour for such an elderly citizen. Perhaps, as I have become a more senior (read old) figure, I should retire. A nice prospect in some respects but economically unsustainable. Something of a quandary then. Well lets just say that blogging on the subject is sufficient recognition and down play the “old” bit by not dwelling too long.

The event itself has some simpler to solve conundrums. My general contempt for politicians has always had echoes of youthful rebellion, the days when it was positively expected (an apparently evolutionary determined) that you should rebel against all and any form of establishment and authority. As I clearly don’t qualify for this anymore how else can I justify my scorn for politicians? Ah yes, wet behind the ears, un worldly and unruly children. They clearly need a stern word.

Problem solved!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The truth will set you free

Unlike Robert Fulghum I didn't go to kindergarten but I wholly understand what he is saying when he says All I Really Need to Know I Learned at Kindergarten. One of those maxims is “say sorry when you hurt someone” and I am pleased that Gordon Brown said sorry to Gillian Duffy, I only hope his apology was more genuine than his warm words to her before he called her a bigot!

But it does seem that we are progressively coarsening society by forgetting some of the home spun truths we learn when we are young at mother knee so to speak. There has been a trend, it seems to me, to regard any idea that has a long provenance is misguided or out of date, or not in tune with modern society. But to me many have stood the test of time, are universal and underpin a civil world and telling the truth is surely one of them.

I don't want to sound like an old curmudgeon but I am saddened by the number of media commentators who have said in the case of Gordon Brown – “There but for the grace of god go I.” Really? “We always tell little untruths don't we?” they say, “We all save peoples blushes by little white lies don't we?” they say. Really?

Well maybe it isn't entirely black and white this telling the truth idea but surely the casual and wholesale abandonment of it must be a concern. Media managers and spin doctors would deny this but they are fundamentally about peddling untruths by seeking to hide it. This is a practice that I have always found despicable in business where these days it seems telling the truth is to be regarded as entirely naïve. Lying and deceit is seen almost as macho thing and incumbent upon management as the burden of management despite the fact that it is in most cases entirely unnecessary. I have always held to the view that telling the truth is generally for the best. Whilst it can be hard it has generally worked well for me in the long run. To me it is fundamental to developing trust.

And that is what is at issue here for Gordon Brown. Its not that he called her a bigot its that he hadn't got the courage to challenge her views face to face despite the fact that he was seeking her endorsement as her representative. Can we really all say “Well we would all do that wouldn't we?” Well no actually not all of us would, because I wouldn't.

I am not making a party political point here. They are all at it. The expenses scandal seems to me the most compelling example of how this particular group of people have lost their connection to the simple maxims of the kindergarten about fairness and respect. Ed Balls brushing off the fact that he used his mobile while driving as a “fair cop”. So that makes it aright then? You can decide to risk the lives of your cars occupants and other road users by taking an unnecessary action in full knowledge that it was illegal.

The selfish and casual abandonment of Fulghums wise observation will come back and bite us I feel sure and, in the meantime, civil society will just get progressively less civil.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Sunday was the anniversary of the beginning of the Dardanelles campaign – or Gallipoli as it is commonly referred to. Being married to a kiwi and having lived for some time in Australia I am very aware of how this event profoundly influenced those countries and shaped both their sense of nationhood and their place in the “Empire” as it then was. It was also a seminal moment in the development of modern Turkey as the old Ottoman empire collapsed, and Kamel Attaturk built his record as a formidable military commander.

The place itself is an extraordinarily beautiful location. Turquoise sea and timber clad coves, but the hillsides are still cut with the remains of slit trenches and redoubts now overgrown. Yet it has that sense of place so beloved of poets that even if you were unaware of its history you would detect that momentous and significant events had taken place there. For me visiting it for the first time, more than 20 years ago now, was a very affecting experience. I was lucky to be visiting with a small group of friends most of whom were Australian and New Zealanders. Ironically I was the only the only person from the group to have any relation involved in the campaign, and I had carried my grandfathers polished steel field mirror with me on the trip. We arrived late in the eventing and slept on the beach in Anzac Cove lighting a fire and talking late into the night. Before dawn we swam out into the cove and watched the sun come up from our vantage point out in the water. The silence and beauty of it all seemed so at odds with the knowledge of the carnage noise and death that we knew had happened there. For me it was a very moving and spiritual event and one that will always remain a solemn but treasured memory. As a reminder of the impact of war and, for me, the futility and waste of conflicts such as these, it has little to equal it.

When I visit an RSA in NZ and the lights are dimmed at the moment when we pay our respect to the fallen my mind often goes back to that place, to its peacefulness, its beauty and the terrible loss of life. We will remember them and their sacrifice.

Friday, April 23, 2010

An auspicious day!

World Book and Copyright day – and St Georges day all rolled into one. Doesn’t come much better as far as I am concerned. So I recommend you:

  • Settle down with a nice pint of good English bitter – how about trying something from the PotBelly Brewery in Kettering a fine micro brewer, Yeller Belly would be my choice today.
  • Have a read of a good book, how about Tulagi Hotel – written by a Fin but in English – in fact it is the first book by a Fin to be both written and published in English not in Fin.
  • Listen to some great spoken word and in the spirit of being inclusive I would recommend any of the quintessentially English Sherlock Holmes dramatised by Bert Coules and on the very fine BBC7

The game's afoot: Follow your spirit, and upon this charge. Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Angels have a new boss

Once again – an obituary piece. This is getting sad, but this morning I hear about the death of John Forsythe. I suppose the curious thing for me is that, whilst most think of him in his role in Dynasty where he sparred with Joan Collins in true soap style, for me he will always be Charlie, the disembodied voice of the eponymous Angels’ boss. Despite all of the other things clamouring for my attention in Charlie's Angels (and bear in mind that when it first aired my hormones would have meant that I had eyes for little other than the fairer sex!) I was very much intrigued and drawn in by his superb vocal performance. Some may mock but even now I can conjure up that voice to mind in a heartbeat. For me it reminds me that the voice has such power, and when commanded by an actor of skill it is a lasting and striking tool. Fare well John and thanks.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The myths of surveys

Surveys are very poor indicators of truth and fact. They are often gameable, and demonstrate significant cognitive bias in those that construct them. News of a banking survey did rather make me smile today.

So people don't switch banks according to the ICM/BBC survey.
Not surprising when it is made as difficult as it is. And what to switch too?

And people are happy? Apparently, but I suspect that, given that the services are pretty much universally poor, they are really saying “well my bank is no worse than any of the others so I guess I am happy relative to what I think I could actually get.”

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Small Films - Big Impact

I have always been a great fan of the quirky and idiosyncratic work of Oliver Postgate. Indeed I lamented his passing in this blog some time ago. The BBC have just shown a film about his life and the work he did with Peter Firmin as part of its Time Shift Series. As usual the Beeb did a lousy job of publicising its quality output, but if you are quick you can still catch it on the iplayer here.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


A report today about the planned retirement of analogue radio services highlighted the challenges it presents. This is an issue close to my heart as radio, particularly spoken word radio, remains one of the great joys in my life. The general public perception apparently is that they don't want or need any more radio channels and that the broadcast quality and reach of digital services is so patchy that the loss of analogues services would be unacceptable, a view incidentally which I share. Of course it wont stop the government ( of any colour) pushing ahead in the pigheaded way that they always do, but it is just another example of an occasion where new innovations that are foisted upon us are in many cases simply not as good as what they are replacing nor do they have any obvious advantage. My little transistor radio runs on batteries for weeks, but my DAB radio chews up power to the extent that you can forget about having a battery powered one. Even in a big metropolitan centre like the one that I live in the broadcast quality and reliability of the digital services is poor. You have to have the ariel up and taken together all of these things seem to go against the great advantage of radio – its portability. So it is with flat screen TVs. The quality of the picture is simply not as good as a CRT, and the power consumption is so much higher. But as a result of over promotion and relentless advertising many perfectly good CRT sets are ending up in landfill. One has to question how all this sits with the supposed desire of the governments – of all stripes – to push us to be more green. We are pressed to destroy perfectly good kit to replace it with new kit which is in many cases not as good, obviously costs in CO2 to produce the replacements and generally consumes more energy. This can also be said of the new low energy light bulbs. Of course they may use less power but it is negligible when you think how much more our TVs now consume and the DAB radios will. But most importantly they are not good sources of light – which surely should be the first consideration.

I guess I am just old fashioned but the “progress” we are all supposed to be “enjoying” just doesn't seem like progress to me, and runs counter to what is supposed to be our most pressing concerns – the environment.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Treasure Island

Apparently Andrew Motion – the former Poet Laureate – is to write a sequel to Treasure island. How fantastic. I, like many , love Robert Louis Stevenson's book and have read it any number of times, carrying with me many abiding images and characters from it. Blind Pew and the Black Spot, the Admiral Benbow pub, Ben Gunn and of course Long John Silver – the archetypal pirate. No doubt it will become a talking book in good time and whilst it is unlikely that it will be a TESCAPE book I feel sure it will be a fine piece of work, not least because Andrew Motion will certainly produce so me delightful material for reading.

Poets have that touch and it was interesting and encouraging to hear about the popularity of poetry programming on some overseas broadcasters on last nights Front Row on BBC Radio 4

Finally we hear the the Times and Sunday times will be charging for web access from summer. Who really cares? Terre are many better alternatives available on line, certainly more balanced and non Murdoch ones!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Boat Finally Docks

My compulsive viewing of the last few weeks came to an end on Tuesday when the Yesterday TV channel finished their run of When the Boat Comes In. For those who may not know this it is a BBC Drama series set mainly in the NE of England following primarily the fortunes of one Jack Ford, played by James Bolam, and the interwoven relationship he has with the Seaton family.

Created in the mid 70s and running to four series ending in 1981, it has all of the hall marks of classic TV of the era. Wobbly sets, dubious locations – so some windswept northern masquerading as Spanish beach by the addition of some potted palms - and truly hopeless special effects when viewed from an age of CGI. But these are ephemeral and what makes it such a continuing success is the quality of the material – the series was originated by and largely written by James Mitchell - and the outstanding cast.

Mitchell wrote much of the Callan series and contributed to many seminal British TV series. He also wrote novels as James Munro and his work is shot through with wit and life.

Bolam handles the part of Ford with great aplomb – as you would expect - using the many contradictions inherent in the character to form a compelling agent in storyline. IT would be easy to go on. The cast list includes many performers with exceptional dramatic skills and understanding of their craft. Edward Wilson for example who went on to do such highly regarded work at the NYT and the California Youth theatre. However the main point is that regardless of some of the failing of the set and production values, good quality material and exceptional performers will still produce compelling absorbing and lasting work. These are the values TESCAPE aims to uphold.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Oh dear another one gone!

At the risk of this blog becoming an obituary column we have to say farewell to Harry Carpenter. Harry has been described as “one of the old school”, and I think that is meant affectionately rather than in any pejorative sense. He was without compare as a boxing commentator but was versatile and acted as anchor for more general sports programmes – notably Sportnsight.

He was, though, BBC trained in the days when the BBC could get it right. An interesting voice rather than a spectacular voice, but he used it to such good effect. Modulated and not prone to hyperbole or high volume outburst he was able to inject tension excitement and bring the viewer of listener into the event. Today's scruffy and unrestrained commentators – who seem to think that shouting and squeaking, as if on the terraces, makes for good commentary – would have learned a lot from Harry – know what I mean?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Farewell to Charlie

Such sad news that Charlie Gillett died this week. A tireless champion of world music I first became aware of him through his show on the BBC World Service. His short programme was always engaging and a window onto talent and joy expressed through music found all around the diverse world we live in.

But for my need to listen to spoken word keeping me tuned into the radio through the night I might never have heard it. It is a constant reminder that the usual channels and popular culture is very much a constraining path through life, so we should always try to investigate the new and less common routes. It is also a reminder of just how much craft and skill there is to be found away from the heavily promoted and over hyped.

Sorry to have to say goodbye Charlie but thanks for the ride – we wont forget you.