Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Cheery cynicism at the Edinburgh Fringe!

I’m still in recovery from my annual pilgrimage to the Edinburgh Fringe – and the associated piss-up with pals from my days as a newspaper journalist in Scotland.

We had a ball as usual but it started badly for me. Before setting off to meet in a bar on Saturday lunchtime, I quickly grabbed what I assumed was an antihistamine tablet and swallowed it.

Turns out it was a sleeping tablet. Ah well, that bit of foil they're wrapped in looks similar, and I can’t be expected to read everything, not with my watery eyes.

So the start of our get together was a little fuzzy for me. At first, I assumed a great depression had descended on me. Well, I am a Catholic from Wigan and unlucky in love …

Don’t know what my mates thought during the early stages my near-catatonic state. Maybe they reckoned I was balefully reflecting on the futility of human existence. I do that frequently, as it goes, especially now that I work in Runcorn.  ‘Thank you! I’m here all week…’

No, lads, it was the sleeping tab that did for me, at least temporarily.

It is, however, impossible to stay miserable or sleepy for long in the midst of such excellent company – Alan and Colin, John, Scott … and Brian (who knows a thing or two about arts festivals).  

By the time we got to our pre-arranged karaoke bar I was ready to swing and sing. Also, I set a new world record time for drinking three large glasses of red wine (i.e.a full bottle) in five minutes. That helped.

And so I was able to belt out ‘A Town Called Malice’ with some gusto. Ditto ‘Shout to the Top’ and ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart'. That last one I dedicated to another Scottish friend, Chris, who couldn’t be around for that part of the proceedings, but did rock up throughout the long and boozy day.

We did see some live performers, in case you’re wondering. We saw Rodney Bewes’ one-man show, which was charming and sweet, like the man himself. After that show my friend Alan played the ardent fan in front of Rodney Bewes on a scale I've not witnessed since my own awestruck stances at various Roddy Frame gigs.

We were all impressed by Stewart Lee’s show. He displays a cynicism which is paradoxically refreshing and entirely appropriate in these ghastly times we are living through.

Lee’s timing is perfect. His confident but subtle bitching about the more mainstream of comedians - the sort that become whores to the TV industry - was very enjoyable. I was also impressed by his trademark repetitions and slow-build-ups.

Later we went to see the Irish comic Ed Byrne, and he was rubbish – “pish” to use a Scolttish word. I’d forgotten, incidentally, that he had - along with 50-odd other showbiz fluffheads - signed a 2010 open letter published in The Grauniad, stating opposition to Pope Benedict XVI's state visit to the UK. If I’d remembered that I would never have agreed to pay to watch the lightweight berk.    

Byrne did a dull observational comedy routine about parents who take their kids to Costa coffee bars – so lame.  And his overlong routine about his diarrhoea just made me feel uncomfortable. I felt Byrne was just going through the motions (no pun intended) with his show; and that’s not good enough for Edinburgh.

With such a level of complacency I’m not surprised that Byrne is one of those inoffensive, wet comedians, who are fawned over by those despicable people, the TV commissioning bosses.

Talking of which, mindful of the fact that Edinburgh’s International Television Festival (or International Whores’ Convention, if you prefer) was looming, we, the auld gang, took our leave of the fine old city.

But we’ll be back!  We are coming back here!  And we are going to install a fecking karaoke machine!

PS There was a comedian called Sam Brady at the Fringe. Apparently, he is quite well established. I didn’t get a chance to see him. Did he take inspiration for his act from my column on the old ITV ORACLE service?  Hmmm … After looking at his website, I somehow doubt it, as comedian Sam Brady's’ style is apparently ‘friendly, warm, enthusiastic’, and he likes to emphasise human kindness. Sounds interesting, though… good luck to him!

Thursday, 6 August 2015

TV: precious few gems among SO MUCH crap

The state of the la la land that is TV just get worse and worse. Apart from occasional gems, such as the timely repeat of ITV’s Cilla* in recent days, there is so much junk.

Why, for instance does the BBC persist in churning out Casualty and Holby City? They aren’t dramas. They are textbook examples of hand-wringing, liberal issues-led dross.

Coronation Street, meanwhile, is nowhere near as good as it was. It shouldn’t keep chugging away with crisis-heavy storylines, and preachy stuff such as Steve suffering depression, and now Cathy being addicted to hoarding rubbish, and Carla  becoming a problem gambler.

However, the actress who plays Cathy, Melanie Hill, is brilliant. I loved her role as Cilla Black’s mum in ITV’s hit biopic miniseries – especially her yodelling scene. I hope Melanie becomes a mainstay in Corrie as Cathy – but please add some beef to her role.

It was good to see John White as Cilla’s Dad, too. He was so good in Early Doors, one of the few occasions the BBC have ever managed an intelligent take on soulful northern English humour and pathos.

Northern humour still does surface in Corrie, of course, but rarely. The last time I laughed out loud was months ago when Scary Mary talked of her prowess at yoga. "My crescent moon is the talk of the community centre,” she boasted. Fffnnnarrr!

And now, after endless boring cookery shows, we have some awful, overblown bollox of a barbeque competition, ITV’s BBQ Champ. Two things I find irritating about it instantly …

(A) It’s a rip-off of the BBC’s Great British Bake-Off, and that was hardly worth copying.

And (B), two of the new show’s ‘stars’ are among the most irritating people ever to appear on telly. (I know! There’s a lot of competition; are you listening Phillip Schofield and Su Perkins?)

The two supremely annoying people in BBQ Champ are, of course, Myleene Klass and Adam Richardson. Oh, come on, it needs saying!

On a sombre note, there’s something else I need to say too… Requiescat In Pace, Cilla Black.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

So Newzoids … not a bad effort from ITV

The UK general election campaign is, in itself, a big unwitting satire show.

Plastic politicians endlessly crap on about “hard working families” and “our NHS”. BBC “journalists” (or Guardian readers, as I call them) report everything with a totally synthetic seriousness.

It’s all so pointless, actually. Everyone who is intelligent knows that our model of government – representative liberal democracy within nations– is no longer even the slightest bit fit for purpose.

How could it be – in a planet so damaged by things that are global in their awfulness - environmental abuse, rapacious capitalism, and terrorism?

Still, we have a general election campaign and I suppose we should vote. At least it means we can be free … if only for a few seconds.

And with British politicians doing such a great job of sending themselves up, there's no much point in having a telly show to satirise them.

But actually I’m rather pleased by what I’ve seen of ITV’s Newzoids  – i.e. last night’s offering. This new puppet show (which has been compared to Spitting Image) is steering away somewhat from party politics, maybe because the election is on and regulations require TV to be fair and even-handed.

Even so, I think it was a good idea of Newzoids to feature Ed Milliband in a spoof version of C4’s Embarrasing Bodies show. The Labour Leader just doesn’t feel comfortable in his own skin, apparently. No kidding!

And I was pleased to see ITV have a go at the BBC’s preposterous recent Dr Who output. It’s the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver, see. It’s so good at getting clueless scriptwriters out of their many plot cul-de-sacs. Nice one.

I also thought the Princess Charles and Camilla snogging sequence was hilarious – if somewhat vomit-inducing.

And I sniggered to see: the puppet of Sky TV’s ghastly presenter Kay Burley had a literal (as opposed to a metaphorical) forked tongue; Jeremy Clarkson being made an 'Offender of the Realm'; and Alan Carr rightly portrayed as a silly showbiz fluffhead.   

So well done ITV!  You always were my favourite station. And you are still just about up there, with recent improvements in Coronation Street and the continued glorious vulgarity of Benidorm.

All ITV needs to do now to keep me happy is commission a British version of Family Guy and screen an episode every night.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Sexual objectification, my arse, Madonna!

Kind of despite myself, I enjoyed the recent Jonathan Ross Show featuring Madonna (and no-one else).

That she didn’t have to share the sofa with a bunch of ghastly luvvies or thick TV presenters made it all pleasantly watchable.

I think Ross probably went off the pre-arranged script with some of his questions ...
Madonna frowned at him a few times and shot him what passed for a few dirty looks (well, I think that’s what they were; on a face as immobile as hers, that’s had so much treatment, it’s quite hard to discern the exact meaning of attempted facial expressions).

But Madonna was mostly game for the duration of this show, and it was nice to see her back in Britain. She made it big here, after all, before she did in her native territory across the pond.

And I think there is something quite British about Madonna, strangely; something essential to her personality; not connected to her marriage or residency here.

I think of her as an ‘honorary Brit’ and I certainly mean that as a compliment.

I don’t think she should be dressing in such an over-sexualised way at her age, mind, but I will forgive her that transgression.

And I don’t think the likes of Miley Cyrus should be doing that sort of thing either; it’s demeaning to her also, as a young woman. Nor do I think that Madonna should have defended Miley’s antics to Ross. Madonna's arguments about that on the show were rubbish. ‘Objectification’, my arse, if you get my drift …

But she is Madonna. She’s achieved a lot in her life. She’s given millions of people, including myself, a lot of pleasure. I fondly remember dancing like a tit to ‘Borderline’ and all those early hits, for instance, back in the day in Norwich. Thanks, Madge!  

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Radio Ga Ga – and cretinous TV shows!

You expect minor TV channels to do ‘list’ style programmes, because that’s what they are all about – filling the schedules with cheap and best forgotten images from the past.

But it is disappointing to see ITV get in the act with its dire The Nation’s Favourite Queen’s Song.

I’ve never understood the attraction of the group Queen anyway – they always seemed like a bunch of bombastic, silly posturers to me.

I will admit that Freddie Mercury had some vocal talent and quite a startling theatrical presence. A bit of credit where it’s due.

But lyrically Queen’s songs were very weak and simplistic – and sometimes incomprehensible.

I mean, ‘Radio Ga Ga, Radio Goo Goo’? Pur-lease! Grow up! I know the song was supposed to be a lament for the eclipsing of music radio by music video, but the words to the song are so weak and derivative.

And WTF is ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ about, if anything? With utter predictability that song was revealed as Britain’s Number 1 favourite Queen song. Zzzzz.

Oh aye, and I think there is some sort of album tied in with this pathetic telly offering.

Sorry but - as with so many things that TV holds up for our edification or admiration - I really don’t give a crap.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Leader urgently needed. NO! Not you, Ed Milliband!

So who are we? And where are we?

We are the people – composed of various tribes – who built the biggest empire in the history of our small potato world. So we are not insignificant when the day of reckoning comes.  

We are the British. But we are currently bitterly divided – and there is deep political malaise here and disillusionment with the way things are run.

You know things are quite desperate when the BBC takes the political posturing of unfunny comedian Russell Brand seriously. It was deliciously embarrassing to see him interviewed, post-Paxman, on Newsnight. Embarrassing for the BBC, I mean. Brand himself is clearly way too deluded to feel anything like embarrassment.

Next May there'll be a General Election in the UK. Who will we choose? Which party? More importantly, which human being will we choose to lead us?

Lim-Dem Leader Nick Clegg is, by his mannerisms alone, eminently slappable, so it's no surprise that his personal ratings are so low.

What is a little surprising, perhaps, is that the leader of a major political party, Labour, is even more unpopular with voters. Or maybe not …

Now, I’m a card-carrying member of the Labour party. (That’s all I do, mind. I carry the card in my wallet. I do not respond to the condescending emails which the party sends me, asking me to get involved and donate ever more money to the cause.)

Part of my reason for not getting involved with Labour in the run-up to the General Election is the pisspoor quality of the current Labour Leader, Ed Milliband. He’s a dork from Central Casting, frankly, and anyway I simply can’t trust a man who stabbed his real-life brother in the back, politically.

I don’t know how things will shake out when we get to vote, when we all get to be free for just for a day and vote for a new British Government. No-one seems to know, frankly …

Another part of my reason for disengaging with the political system is the system itselfrepresentative liberal democracy within the context of global capitalism. It just doesn’t work properly any more.

But it's all we’ve got at the moment – so we really ought to make ourselves engage with politics, even if only as a kind of duty until we work out a better way of organising human affairs.

Human beings need laws and law-makers. As philosophers have rightly observed, between the angels and the wild beasts, there is the law.
Law – based on the moral values handed down to us – is the only thing that can keep us relatively safe; stop us tearing each other apart, following selfish instincts. We can enjoy freedom under the law within nations.

Hmmm … The ‘within nations’ bit has, of course, become a little complicated in this era of rapacious capitalism and ‘controversial ‘international law’ (which often takes a secular, proscriptive and unpleasantly ‘liberal-fascist’ view of the world).

And for me, a desire to promote the common good and to respect the dignity of all human life is also very important. Those are the two main aims of Catholic social teaching, as it happens, but don’t let that put you off.

Soon enough we British, in all our multi-ethnic and argumentative messiness (including the Scots), have to choose a government and as part of that, a leader for our disunited nation.

And, believe me, nations, do need leaders.

Even when politics has become such a game, not to mention a role-playing TV-focussed circus, it's hard to forget old party allegiances and focus our minds instead on our country’s potential leaders; the men and (in a few cases) the women who lead our political parties.

Over time one gets a gut feeling about politicians, I think. You decide whether you can tolerate the cut of their jibs.

Ed Milliband, sorry, you’re absolutely intolerable; ditto Nick Clegg. UKIP’s Nigel Farage?! You’re having a laugh!

David Cameron, the Tory Leader, I judge is probably OK in terms of jib-cutting it and general trustworthiness. I don’t really care that he’s a toff – but then I‘m unlikely to vote for him … because I don’t on principle vote Tory. And I can’t see that changing before the general election.

Frankly, I rather wish that some good woman political leaders would emerge in the major political parties. But I just can’t think of any right now that would command support from the public.

Theresa May might have been good, but here role in messing up the appointment of a chairperson for the inquiry into the Home Office’s handling of child abuse allegations has effectively ruled her out. Plus her dress sense is dodgy – talk about mutton dressed as mutton!

Esther McVey (Tory glamourpuss) and Harriet Harman (Labour)? Well I’ve met both of them personally and I’m not impressed.

One politician who does come across well via television is Jim Murphy, now standing as Labour’s new leader in Scotland. Hope he gets it. He seems an intelligent and serious man. I wish he were standing for leader of the Labour Party UK-wide. He’d definitely get my vote.

PS Ed Milliband, do the decent thing and resign as Labour leader. Do it NOW!  

Monday, 15 September 2014

Sunday night crapfest – at the Palladium!

Any industry as bloated and stale as TV is can be forgiven for endlessly recycling old formats which once were culturally significant.

It happened last night when ‘Sunday Night at the London Palladium’ came back – fronted by that grinning ninny from TV central casting, Stephen Mulhern.

As a viewer I didn’t share Mulhern’s breathless excitement as the show plodded on. I stayed sufficiently alert to record his pisspoor spoken words, mind!
Mulhern spouted clichés right to the end of the show. He’d “had a ball” apparently. Presenting the show had been “a dream come true”. At one point had “literally goosebumps”. At another, he rubbed his hands in theatrical glee and shouted “I can’t wait”. Yes, it was that sad.

Talking of sadness, Bryan Adams looked tired and old as he put way too much rock posing into a mediocre song for the finale.

That was almost as dolorous as Alfie Boe warbling his way through a (predictably) miserable ballad from Le Mis̩rables Рthe stage musical that appeals to soppy luvvies and naive liberals in equal measure.

The Beatles, the Stones and quite a few big US singing stars appeared on Sunday Night at the London Palladium in its heyday (early to mid 1960s).

More than 20 million used to watch each show, when it was presented by the likes of Bruce Forsyth and Norman Vaughan, who were quite funny and charming. Now the show will be lucky to get 6 million.

We are now set for another five shows, thankfully not presented by Mulhern. But I doubt I’ll be watching.
The performance mix of silly magicians, near-nudie prancers, moronic contemporary girl and boy bands and dinosaurs of pop (such as Neil Diamond and Art Garfunkel, who are both lined up for appearances, apparently) simply does not appeal.

Nor does the shouty ‘Top of the Bill’ game show element give any pleasure. That’s even worse that the ‘Beat the Clock’ element from the show’s good old days; which come to think of it weren’t that good.

This show’s been revived several times over the years but it simply doesn’t work any more. The theatre itself looks small and strangely provincial. Society’s moved on. So should clueless telly bosses.