Friday 10 June 2011
Brian Viner: At last - the music we really want to hear
Kirsty Young, the presenter of Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, considers it unlikely that "The Birdie Song" will feature when the nation's own favourite records are revealed in tomorrow morning's special edition of the venerable programme. The Great British public, asked to imagine themselves as castaways, have been registering their own choices on the Radio 4 website.
As for what those choices will be, Young has further stuck her neck out and suggested that there will be nothing by Peters and Lee, but I wouldn't rule out a dose of dear old blind Lennie and blonde Dianne singing "Welcome Home". After all, the man and woman on the Clapham omnibus have a disconcerting habit of confounding good taste on these occasions. Indeed, it was another of the Corporation's initiatives, a poll held in 1996 to mark BBC Television's 60th birthday celebrations, that revealed Britain's favourite-ever sitcom to be... Men Behaving Badly. Even the show's creator, Simon Nye, had the grace to be embarrassed that Dad's Army, Porridge, Steptoe and Son and Fawlty Towers trailed some way behind in the voting.
As the great American showman PT Barnum once said, nobody ever made a fortune by overestimating the intelligence of the public, and the same, alas, is true of their discernment. On the other hand, Barnum was talking about Joe Shmo from Peoria, Illinois, whereas we are talking about Radio 4 listeners, who consider themselves intellectually sharper than the rest, and might just have made their selections as an assertion of their cultural superiority.
So Young is probably not wide of the mark to rule out "The Birdie Song", and Joe Dolce's 1980 hit "Shaddap You Face" must also be deemed a rank outsider, with "Orville's Song" not even in the betting. Expect something by the late Dame Joan Sutherland, on the other hand, to loom large, alongside Beethoven's Symphony No 9 in D minor. Still, you never know. It might just be that we get a truer reflection of the nation's tastes, and in this war-torn world, who could argue with the enduring poignancy of Rolf Harris's "Two Little Boys"? Or, as yet more stories of star-crossed lovers hit the front pages, with the heartrending lyrics of "Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)"?
Unfortunately, I expect that there has been an element of posturing even in the anonymity of cyberspace, just as there is from many of Young's actual studio guests. My own wife, a novelist who is just three or four worldwide bestsellers away from getting the call-up herself, admitted to me yesterday that if she were really choosing the records that had meant most to her in the course of her 48 years, she would have to ask Kirsty to play David Cassidy's "Daydreamer". And yet the sad reality, she added, is that she'd try to think of something cooler.
Whatever, it will be interesting to see how the public's choices tally with those made by all the celebrity castaways down the years. I suspect they might diverge. Apparently, the most popular non-classical track is Edith Piaf's "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien", followed by Frank Sinatra singing "My Way". This makes sense, for the simple reason that if you're successful enough to be invited on to Desert Island Discs in the first place, you are quite likely to have either no regrets in life, or too few to mention. Whereas, if the nearest you are ever likely to get to the recording studio is the Radio 4 website, it could be that a whole different set of lyrics sum up your existence. In fact, if you're honest with yourself, it might even be Orville's Song. All together now, "I wish I could fly, way up to the sky, but I can't..."
I loved Rattigan – but not enough to make a crazy buy
Terence Rattigan was born 100 years ago today, and the success of the West End production of Flare Path makes a nice posthumous birthday present. I haven't seen it, or any other Rattigan play for that matter, but we did read The Winslow Boy in English lessons when I was a 12-year-old schoolboy, and it had a deep and lasting influence on me, so much so that when we were house-hunting 10 years ago, I was sorely tempted to make an offer on a place in the Cotswolds, largely on the basis that it had once been owned by the Archer-Shee family, on whom the Winslows were modelled. Happily, sanity prevailed. It was too expensive, and it had rising damp.
The joy of garden birdlife comes at a price
Earlier this week my daughter Eleanor asked Jane, my wife, why on earth she had bought so many Scotch eggs, since she appeared to have arrived home from the supermarket carrying a huge tub containing 50 of the things. In fact they were suet balls, to supplement the sunflower seeds and nuts which account for the wild aviary that thrives around an old cider press at the side of our house.
Jane is fairly new to all this. Leaving out a few stale crusts used to be the limit of her ornithological welfare campaign, but ever since a neighbour of ours invited us round to see photographs of the birds in his garden, she has been gripped by the zeal of the converted. As a consequence, we are visited by all manner of tits and finches, and a handsome great spotted woodpecker calls by most days. To watch them fluttering and wheeling is indeed a great pleasure, but keeping them fed and watered, especially in the winter, has become something of a tyranny. Now that we've started we can't stop, yet it adds at least £10 a week to the shopping bill. Our family of five has become a family of 105.
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