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Acorn Fools’ Day

Detail of The Micro User scan

April Fools’ Day tends to get a bit of a bad rap these days. Every year, my Twitter feed gets more and more filled with complaints about how lame it is. As someone involved in a few April Fools over the years, I admit I find myself getting a bit defensive about it. My argument: it’s easy to get hung up on the “prank” aspect of it, with a roll of the eyes, or a scowl. The very best April Fools take the prank aspect as a starting point… and do something interesting instead. The real joy in most good April Fools gags is them going off and doing something else entirely.

The best example of this that I’ve been involved with was pretending the script for the Red Dwarf movie had been leaked. Sure, of course we were trying to fool people into thinking it was true. But beyond that, the actual script extracts we wrote as part of it… kinda have their own interest. They certainly set my mind thinking as to how a Red Dwarf movie would work – which ends up being far more interesting than the actual prank itself.

Still, I get it. Perhaps the internet does make the day lose a bit of its lustre. These days, as soon as you wake up on April 1st and check online, you’re inundated with EVERY WEBSITE DOING A FUNNY. It can get rather wearing, especially when there’s so much crap about – and as you’re automatically on your guard, the whole thing is far less fun. In the old days, it was different. The April edition of a magazine might plop on your mat, way before April 1st… and maybe, just maybe, catch you unawares. The whole thing had a… less mechanical air.

Which leads us to this article. Some of my favourite April Fools growing up were in the pages of Acorn User and The Micro User; two Acorn computing magazines I was absolutely besotted with. I thought it’d be fun to take a look at some of the April Fools they ran over the years. It’s not a complete rundown of every single one they ever did – just a sample of some of the more interesting ones. Neither are they all gold: I’ve not cherry-picked just the really good ones just to make my point. But it’s a nice reminder of the days when April Fools gags were given just a little time to breathe.

It’s also perhaps a reminder that some of the best April Fools gags are often ones targeted at a very specific audience, rather than a general one. By their very nature, April Fools are a bit self-indulgent – and they’re one place where in-jokes can run riot to very good effect. (Another reason why I think some of the Red Dwarf ones I’ve been involved in work so well.) If you don’t have the background knowledge required for some of these, they’ll inevitably fall rather flat. I’ll give some notes as we go, but that’s very much Worth Bearing In Mind.

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■ Posted 1st April 2015 @ 12pm in Computers. No Comments Yet.

Jingle History 101

“Hey, whatta ya say, it’s a great new day and we’re livin’, with 1010 WINS
Hey, whatta ya say, let’s get underway, we’re really livin’ W-I-N-S
It’s the right spot, 1010, it’s the bright spot, that’s WINS
The 1010 spot on your dial, and suddenly it swings
Hey, whatta ya say, have a happy day ‘cause we’re livin’, with 1010 WINS
W-I-N-S!”

– PAMS Series 13 “Target”, Cut #1, 1959

One recurring theme here on Dirty Feed can be summed up by the following: “Hey, jingles are fun”. This is a really good example.

A topic I’ve touched on before is the world of jingle syndication: the idea that whilst a jingle may originally be sung for a specific radio station, versions of that jingle can then be sung for different stations or uses all over the world. Here is an ultra-simple example of this; a single two-second jingle sung many different times. (Yeah, the final one is my favourite. Bite me.)

Last month, JAM Creative Productions1 uploaded the following fun bit of audio. It’s the above idea… taken to its absolute extreme. A jingle originally sung in 1959 for station 1010 WINS in New York – resung in 2015, with brand new lyrics, for internet station Rewound Radio. Take a listen below.

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  1. a.k.a. My Favourite Jingle Company.  

■ Posted 18th March 2015 @ 7pm in Jingles, Radio. 1 Comment.

High & Low

High & Low clapperboard In lieu of anything new on here for a bit, I thought I’d point towards a few articles I’ve written over on Ganymede & Titan – the Red Dwarf fansite described by none other than Norman Lovett as a “sad little site for people who haven’t got anything better to do”. Our latest series of articles is called High & Low, and is basically BuzzFeed but better.

My three articles are about the best and worst:

So, y’know. Click on those. Or just listen to Shampoo instead, I’m not bothered.

■ Posted 12th March 2015 @ 7pm in Comedy, Television. No Comments Yet.

11 Things Wrong With Fawlty Towers

Flowery Twats sign

One of my favourite DVD commentaries I’ve ever heard is John Cleese’s on the Fawlty Towers Remastered box set.1 Of course, I could listen to John Cleese talk about comedy forever and a day, but more than that: it’s rare to hear someone of his generation so utterly committed to the art of giving a good commentary. Having clearly rewatched the episodes in preparation, there are very few awkward pauses; the whole thing is dense with facts. Moreover, rarely has someone been so endlessly generous in talking about the talents of the cast of a show… and genuinely makes you appreciate why they are so good, rather than just gushing.

My favourite thing about the commentary, though?2 His thoughts, 30 years later, as to which parts of Fawlty Towers are his favourite, and which bits he likes the least. The former have been talked about before – Basil’s Best Bits on Gold, for example – but I find the latter especially interesting. Having read a number of ill-thought-through criticisms of Fawlty Towers over the years, it seems the only person who actually has any sensible ones is a certain J. Cleese.

Here then, are some of his least favourite things about the show, as taken from his commentary. I’ve picked what I think is his most interesting criticism of each episode. Enjoy.

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  1. That’s Remastered in the Doctor Who Restoration Team sense, rather than this one

  2. Apart from the fact that he makes very clear that the show was written by him and Connie Booth, and not by him alone. 

■ Posted 11th February 2015 @ 4pm in Comedy, Television. 1 Comment.

Sitcom Recording Leaflets: Up the Women

I’m getting quite the collection of these little pieces of ephemera: leaflets given out at sitcom recordings. From The Brittas Empire, Every Silver Lining, new Yes Prime Minister, and Birds of a Feather, comes the latest: Up the Women, Series 2 Episode 3, “Bowls”.

RX: 16th February 2014, Studio 2, The London Studios.
TX: 4th February 2015, BBC Two, 10:00pm.

Up The Women leaflet - Cover Up The Women leaflet - Inside

Compared to some of the lovely leaflets in my collection, this maybe isn’t one of the best – crooked, and not especially well laid out. (There’s a big gap where something interesting behind-the-scenes could have been added.) The character descriptions are good, though. Anyway, I highly recommend you give the series a try if you haven’t already. I’m thoroughly enjoying it.

As ever, I’m always on the lookout for more of these – so if you have any hanging around, please, scan ‘em in and send me a link. Unless you don’t want you. You heartless bastard.

■ Posted 9th February 2015 @ 8pm in Comedy, Television. 1 Comment.

On Automation.

A picture of a playlist

Picture the scene. You’re sitting there watching television, and something bad happens. Maybe it’s a voiceover in the wrong place, over the last scene of the programme instead of the end credits. Maybe the channel goes to an ad break in the middle of a scene. Maybe the first part of a programme keeps repeating over and over again. Maybe the aspect ratio has all gone to shit. Maybe it’s a full-blown breakdown, badly-dealt with and with no apology.

And across the internet, the familiar lament goes: “Tch, automation, eh?”

Except: it isn’t. Automation doesn’t really have anything to do with it at all. And I’m going to do my best to convince you. So what does cause complete inanities to go to air?

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■ Posted 21st January 2015 @ 1pm in Television. 1 Comment.

@ComedyCentralUK: Getting social media wrong

Sunday morning, 28th December 2014, and something unpleasant is going down on Comedy Central UK.

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■ Posted 2nd January 2015 @ 6pm in Television. 1 Comment.

Dirty Feed: The First Five Years

BBC Master startup screen, with Dirty Feed instead of BASIC, because I'm hilarious obviously

Exactly five years ago today, Dirty Feed came into being. (Actually, that’s strictly not true – it was called Transistorised for most of that first year – but let’s ignore that, as it was a rubbish name.) After Noise To Signal closed, I wanted a place of my own to post my nonsense. No real plans, no ambitious proposals: just “let’s talk about stuff I’m interested in and see what happens”.

I rarely do navel-gazing posts here – in fact, bizarrely, even the change in name from Transistorised to Dirty Feed wasn’t actually noted on the site. But I thought I’d allow myself something just this once. What follows is a list of some of my favourite things on the site over the past five years. I ORDER YOU TO ENJOY IT.

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■ Posted 1st January 2015 @ 11am in Meta. No Comments Yet.

Rewiring.

Next year, I am going to learn how to watch television and listen to the radio.

Or more specifically: next year, I am going to learn how to watch television and listen to the radio by myself.

Of course, I used to do nothing but this. My fond memories of watching TV when I was growing up aren’t as a family: it was my own shows, alone. My formative experiences with comedy, watching Fawlty Towers and Red Dwarf and Trev and Simon’s Stupid Video over and over and over again, were solitary experiences. There was nobody about in the middle of the night, where I sat watching Pets on 4Later. And those 10 minute Television X free-to-air promos… actually, let’s skip that one.

Still, over the years, things changed. I moved in with my girlfriend, and we started watching more TV together. And gradually, watching stuff by myself got less fun. If a show was really that great, I’d want to share it with her. Sure, I might enjoy a show by myself… but it was far more fun to watch it together, to laugh together, to stare in horror together, to talk about it afterwards together. And slowly, it became a habit… to the point where, without really even thinking about it that much, I barely watch anything by myself any more. It just doesn’t appeal to me at all.

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■ Posted 30th November 2014 @ 11am in Radio, Television. 1 Comment.

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