Cries & Whispers

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THE LONDON listings guide, Time Out, is 25 years old. Readers in the South-east will not need telling this. Hell hath no public-relations campaign like a magazine that is celebrating an anniversary. There is not just a party and a special issue: there's a commemorative book of short stories and a commemorative set of billboards by artists. Is there really so much to celebrate?

Time Out is fantastically useful, so much so that it's hard to know what we ever did without it. The listings are clear, full and accurate. In the early days, the listings did more than say what was on: they influenced it, helping build a market for everything from fringe theatre to futons. And the magazine as a whole was more than a directory. It was not afraid to go out on a limb, both politically (it campaigned, it crusaded, it broke the Official Secrets Act), and journalistically. If a story was a good story, it would go on the cover, even if it made difficult reading - though often it was done with such flair that you didn't notice.

There are not many difficult stories on the cover now. It's all movies, restaurants and sex. I'm all for movies, restaurants and indeed sex, but in journalism they are an easy option; you don't have to work to get people interested in them. The old Time Out could be self-righteous, but it was never tacky. The new one, which has a virtual monopoly, has no need to be so commercial. When TO celebrates its 30th anniversary, doubtless with a six-month international arts festival, I look forward to writing about how it has regained its soul. (See My Biggest Mistake, Business section.)

A NEW irritant stalks the arts world: the gratuitous use of great songs on soundtracks. If you go to Sleepless in Seattle, the first thing that happens is somebody sings 'As Time Goes By'. It turns out to be Jimmy Durante, but that's not the point; the point is, no one should sing 'As Time Goes By' unless their name is Dooley Wilson, and no one should ever use it in a film again. It is indelibly linked with Casablanca. You can't just lift it out and stick it in another film, unless you're being ironic. And you especially can't filch it if you're trying to make a great romantic comedy, which Nora Ephron clearly was. (Alas, she failed.) Meanwhile, the first two episodes of Cracker, Robbie Coltrane's new vehicle, featured Carol Kidd's version of 'Summertime'. It's a nice version, but what on earth was it doing there? The story wasn't set in the summer, and the living wasn't easy: for one character, this being a murder story, it wasn't even possible. If it was irony, it was thuddingly unsubtle. I fear there may be more examples out there; let me know if you spot one.

THEY SAY those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, but what else are we columnists for? I-Sky a gap in the Times's much-vaunted satellite-TV coverage. Last month TNT, the entertainment arm of the Ted Turner Network and sister channel to CNN, was launched in Britain. Showing cartoons during the day and classic movies at night, the channel has just become available on cable in my area. But when I turn to the Times to see what's on it, there is a glaring hole. It's true that many papers, including this one, offer only partial satellite coverage (if they didn't, they would cover little else). But then we haven't spent the last five years writing about the joys of the dish. I suppose that if you buy a cut-price newspaper, you get a cut-price service.