Wednesday 20 September 1995
Over two months the original 26 programmes shrank to eight. (Blissful benefit of hindsight). Out went Ayatollah Khomeini's love life and the Idi Amin cannibal jokes, along with Harold Wilson's memoirs, Sir Keith Joseph's extraterrestrial travels, and a host of trade union leaders whose names were then as familiar in the tabloids as soap stars' are today. Pamela Stephenson no longer gets her kit off for American Express.
I still laughed at "hope is fading for the six sailors trapped in Britt Ekland's bedroom", though in 1995 Britt's place would probably be taken by Julian Clary. "We regret to announce that Bernard Manning, the comedian who was told by his doctors to lose 5st or die, has today lost 5st", is as timely now as it was in 1982.
The BBC, formerly a major manufacturer, is now - like everyone else - retreating in panic into the service sector. Symbolically, the windowless, cable-draped cellars of Television Centre, where pink-eyed videotape engineers once slaved to edit the original shows, has now been transformed into a glass-roofed, carpeted atrium (Holiday Inn foyer, circa 1987) and belongs to something called Programme Sales and Acquisitions. To re-edit Not the Nine O'Clock News we were dispatched to the sybaritic luxury of an outside facilities house in Chelsea Harbour, food sent in from Mr Chow.
Now there's downsizing for you.
I know about the smart new interior design at TV Centre (a cert for Best Parquet Floor In A Lavishly Refurbished Lift at next year's Bafta awards, by the by) because I was back there directing an episode of The Lenny Henry Show. Any freelance using a BBC facility is now, of course, a customer; and throughout the recording I was zealously pursued by a pleasant young man desperate that I complete his Customer Survey Questionnaire. How had I found the ambience in the studio gallery? Would I describe the camera work as outstanding/ good/indifferent - all the usual crap.
I presume today's Corporate Man produces just such a questionnaire at the end of a date - did his partner find his choice of restaurant imaginative/apt/presumptuous? His conversation stimulating/ informative/numbingly dull? In what ways could his sexual suggestions have been made more explicit?
Variety is king, halt the homogenisation of the High Street, death to the multiples - absolutely. But just as I sometimes wonder how recently people who call Edinburgh the Athens of the North have visited the Greek capital, so I have my doubts as to how many defenders of our Traditional Corner Shops actually patronise the places. These days, in my experience, they are synonymous with rotten vegetables, lukewarm chill cabinets and porn videos. They smell of cat. They sell fags to 12-year-olds, glue to all-comers and obliterate the sell-by dates on their yoghurt pots. Service is surly and prices high. They are to convenience shopping what Aberdeen Steak Houses are to gourmet food, and Hallmark Card shops to high art.
I would like - very quietly - to take this opportunity to congratulate Sir John Drummond on his bold directive to Last Night Promenaders - the audience is, after all, only there for the benefit of the musicians. With luck, Sir John's New Respect will spread to Carling Premiership grounds (crowd noise at the Gallowgate end of St James's Park can be a desperate distraction to the players); to the House of Commons; and to the studios of London Weekend during the recording of Blind Date.
You can certainly learn a lot from listening to the pre-dawn farming programmes on Radio 4. News of the booming, but illegal, trade in seals' penises woke me more suddenly than I intended the other morning.
But among the fatstock prices and fluctuating headage payments, a slow but persistent alarm bell has been sounding for the past year, concerning organophosphates, or OPs - compounds that are widely used in sheep dips and some crop sprays. There seems to be little doubt now that OPs can devastate the health of those who work with them. The blame, according to the manufacturers that supply this vast and lucrative market, lies with the users. Oh yes, Man's Head Dents Falling Brick. Here we go again.
Here are four reasons for refusing to allow the Brighton bomber Patrick McGee, now in his 12th year in prison, leave to attend his father's funeral:
1. Deterrent. The well-known "Jaysus, if I get caught, I'll miss the da's funeral" factor.
2. Redemption. The Brighton victims will rise from their graves, the lame will walk again if we make sure that convicted bombers don't attend parental interments.
3. Timing. We're in the season of mists, mellow fruitfulness and party conferences, when soft winds bend the boughs and the shires rustle to the sounds of Tory right-wingers rounding up the usual suspects - scroungers, foreigners, the idle poor, those already enjoying Her Majesty's pleasure - to throw to their constituency lions.
4. Petty vindictiveness. Otherwise known as Feelgood Factor Mark 2.
If the ceasefire is broken, it won't be by the bomb or the bullet, but by an unplanned riot, and the response to that riot, and the response to that response, and so on. In this context the Home Office's decision concerning McGee, which offends the humanitarian sensibilities of many decent people in the nationalist community and elsewhere in Ireland, is what Patrick Mayhew would call "not terribly useful" and the rest of us call contemptible.
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