It’s 1999, or thereabouts. I’m sitting in a friend’s living room. We’re watching a recording of something from BBC Two. Probably TMWRNJ1 or the like. We’re both huge comedy fans.
Unfortunately, I make an error. Being a comedy fan is fine. But foolishly, I try to have a conversation about the nice BBC Two ident in front of the programme. I like that kind of thing, you see. I mean, at that point, I didn’t even know the phrase “TV presentation”, let alone “TV presentation fan”. This was long before I knew there were other people like me. I just knew it was something I was interested in.
I shortly wished this was not the case.
I can’t even remember the word used towards me. Sad? Boring? Whatever it was, it was negative, and I was an idiot. I mean, I was used to hearing this stuff right through school, but I thought I might escape from it when I went to college. Seemingly not. A swift stab in the heart, job done.
I feebly protest, but can’t get the words out. We get on with watching telly. I brood.
* * *
It’s 2015, or thereabouts. I’m sitting in a certain TV channel’s control room – now on the other side of the television. I’m busy tweaking that evening’s schedule, for imminent transmission over the next few hours. And that involves actually watching a condensed version of that evening’s material.
A ‘2’ in the guise of a toy car glides across the screen. Ah, I know what to do. To make this look good, the 2 figure needs to exit cleanly off the side of the screen before going into the programme. That happens at precisely 15 seconds in. But I’m doing a 10 frame visual mix into the programme, so that means this ident needs to run for 14″15f in order to look good. Hang on…
* * *
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE®! Choose from 2 possible endings:
1) Don’t let anybody ever tell you the silly shit you’re interested in doesn’t matter. You might find it immensely useful years down the line. People might even end up paying you money to be good at it.
Oh, God, the songs are. But the thing about the Shangs is that so much about them can’t be nailed down. They are fuelled by myth and mystery. For every story told, there’s another one which contradicts it. Which, I know, can have its own rewards. But romance be damned, sometimes I just want to know the facts about something. And facts and the Shangri-Las often don’t seem to go together.
For instance: the fabled seven minute version of ‘Remember (Walking in the Sand)’, recorded as a demo. The recording Billy Joel apparently played piano on. Which despite being oft-talked about, has never been released. Who knows if it even exists any more?
Still, occasionally, things slip through the cracks. Like the following YouTube video, uploaded in 2016 with very little in the way of explanation or context:
There are many joys in this three minute section. Studio chatter (“You’re forcing it, you’re really overdoing it…”), rehearsals for ‘Remember’, and an entirely different version of the opening to ‘Leader of the Pack’. But for me, the most fascinating thing about it is the opening few seconds. A song which initially sounds like something which has never been released… and then, eight seconds in, turns into something which sounds exactly like ‘Remember’, but with entirely different lyrics!
“…sells bright shining lights
Angry young girl had her boy hold her tight
But not me
I don’t have
Pretty dresses to wear
And I don’t have
Any ribbons for my hair
But I can…”
So, my question: what the hell is this?
Could it be a short part of that fabled seven minute demo? Perhaps, but those lyrics above don’t seem to relate to anything about the song as we know it. Could it be an entirely different song? Maybe, but I can’t imagine producer Shadow Morton pulling a Whigfield and planning to make their follow-up sound that similar to their first hit. Is it just them messing around with alternate versions of ‘Remember’? Who knows?
I have no answers, and the person who uploaded the video isn’t talking. But we do have yet another mystery to add to the Shangs’ mystique. Every single time you poke at their work, new questions appear. Which is delightful and infuriating in equal measure.
But I’ll tell you one thing. The line “Angry young girl had her boy hold her tight” is massively on-brand for the Shangri-Las.
My old pal Duncan Newmarch appears to have a problem. “He doesn’t remember the 80s – he’s still there…”
Featuring an appearance by yours truly, as the last caller of the show. But how can I be phoning in, if I’m living in 2019 and Duncan’s stuck back in the 80s?
I think the answer is really obvious. In fact, it’s so obvious, I’m not even going to patronise you by giving you the answer. Let’s just say my local telephone exchange has a few issues, and leave it at that.
This is very, very silly. Here is what awaited me when I popped over to Twitter last Wednesday evening:
Just to be clear: “locked” means I can no longer post any new tweets. All my existing tweets can still be read by others, but currently I can’t do anything with my account. I can’t even browse Twitter in read-only mode – all I get is the above locked screen.
b) The tweet apparently causing all the trouble is nine and a half years old. If Twitter had a problem with this tweet, the correct time to deal with it would have been… nine and a half years ago. Asking for this to be deleted is not a reasonable request from Twitter.
c) If Twitter wants to deal with hateful conduct properly, they should ban more Nazis instead.
For what it’s worth, I have lodged an appeal, pointing out these facts. I could get my account reinstated immediately by deleting the tweet, but – currently, at least – I am disinclined to do so.
I have had no reply as of yet. Four days and counting.
As for what inspired Twitter to drag out a nine and a half year old tweet, who knows? Either somebody stupid reported it, or Twitter are doing some kind of bizarre search for pointless stuff. I very much suspect the former. You’d think Twitter’s algorithms would automatically discard reports for ridiculously old tweets, but that would assume Twitter know what the hell they’re doing, and I think we all know the answer to that by now.
I’ll keep you updated. In the meantime, I’m afraid you’ll all have to do without my hateful conduct for the time being. Many apologies.
A fairly large percentage of my time online is still spent hanging around forums. Admittedly, not as much as I did in 2002, where my time on a Knightmare forum directly contributed to me failing to get a degree. But still enough to notice a rather unfortunate pattern from some posters, across many different topics of conversation.
Let’s take an example, from a TV presentation forum I frequent, perhaps despite my better judgement.1
“Anyone else often wonder what planet certain posters are living on? Very few people care about TV presentation outside this forum.”
And I get it, I really do. Some posters are utterly tiresome with their statements that the entire general public cares deeply about the current set of BBC One idents. Sometimes, you just want to let everyone know that at least you’re aware that there’s a wider world out there. One where people don’t tut or cheer depending on what’s bunged in front of EastEnders.
* * *
There I was, sitting in the TX suite of a popular television channel a few years back. Let’s take a look at the programmes on in the afternoon. Ooh, hang on, that show was made in back in the 80s, was it? I’m sure we have an era-appropriate ident we can stick in front of that.
So I make the change in the schedule – checking with all the right people before doing so, in case anybody relevant is reading this – and then did the junction, live announcer and all. Everything went fine, and I sat back, pleased I’d added something fun to the nation’s viewing that afternoon.
A few weeks later, the announcer collared me, and said her mum had been watching, and she loved the ident. It brought back so many memories for her from decades ago, and got all excited when it appeared. And not just because her daughter was talking over it.
* * *
If TV presentation fans are near the bottom of the fandom pile2, then there’s one kind of fan even they are allowed to look down on: jingle anoraks.3 It seems that in real life, most people just aren’t interested in discussing the intricacies of WPLJ jingle packages.4 Which is frankly outrageous.
Still, when Radio 1 Vintage aired in 2017, celebrating 50 years of Radio 1, a curious thing happened in my Twitter feed. “Oh yeah, I remember that jingle…” People who I’d never managed to get into a conversation about jingles were suddenly enthusing about all those silly six second songs.
It was great.
* * *
Red Dwarf fandom was in quite a miserable state in 2008. It’s no secret that morale was on the floor. We’d lost all trace of Red Dwarf, tempers were strained, and supplies were… wait, sorry, this isn’t Ganymede & Titan, I’ve really got to stop throwing in these stupid quotes.
Anyway, the site was quieter than it had been in years. Certainly, we had less reader engagement than ever before. Then, suddenly, new episodes were announced.
My point, of course: this stuff isn’t binary. People aren’t either interested enough in TV presentation to post on forums, or not interested whatsoever. Same goes for jingles, same goes for Red Dwarf, same goes for anything.
The story of the film Nailed is a complicated one.
Not the story we see on-screen, mind you, which is straightforward if quirky: Alice, a waitress (Jessica Biel) gets a nail lodged in her head during a marriage proposal, goes a bit weird, and ends up fighting for better health insurance. No, the complicated part is the story of how the film got made. Or more specifically, one particular scene.
First, a bit of background. Nailed was shot by David O. Russell in 2008, and had endless financial problems at the hands of production company Capitol Films.1 Shooting was halted numerous times due to people not being paid, and eventually production ended with the film incomplete. In 2010, Russell finally walked from the project for good; the film was eventually sold on to a new company, finished without Russell’s involvement, and was released as Accidental Love in 2015 to piss-poor reviews. (With Russell’s name removed from the credits – the director was now the pseudonymous Stephen Greene.)
“In the push and pull for control, producers held the film negatives hostage and postponed a crucial nail-gun scene – when the nail gets planted in Biel’s head – until the last day of shooting in an effort to maintain some leverage against Capitol’s perceived resolve to release an unpolished film. When one of the unions pulled the plug for good, the sequence had still not been shot. The film was left incomplete.”
This tale is backed up by producer Doug Wick, who is quoted as saying the following in this article in Collider, back in August 2012 – before the film was even finished and released:
“…oddly enough the last scene that we had scheduled – partly because we thought this way [the financier will] have to finish the movie – is the scene where Jessica Biel gets a nail in her head. That’s why it’s called Nailed, she doesn’t have insurance and she can’t get the nail out. So the last two days were getting the nail in her head, and we shut down so we didn’t have the final scene that was the scene that was the premise of the movie. There was no way to cut the movie together without that scene, so I don’t know what he was thinking by shutting us down then. At that point everybody was like, ‘We can’t cut the movie together, there isn’t a movie.’ And then he never came through with the rest of the money.”
All very interesting. So, you may be wondering, how did they actually manage to release the film without that crucial scene?
So many of us have vivid TV memories than seemingly nobody else remembers.
* * *
Nottingham, in either the late 80s, or more probably the early 90s. The teatime edition of Central News East is on. I’m watching it, because not only am I fascinated by television, but I’m very specifically fascinated by television which is being transmitted live just up the road from where I live.
Anna Soubry is presenting, in the days when she was a journalist, long before she was an MP. I remember very little about the programme. I can’t even remember who she was presenting with. I just remember the very end of the programme. Anna and her co-presenter are sharing their usual banter. Her co-presenter said something. I can’t remember what. But as the lights dimmed and the closing credits appeared, I vividly remember Anna’s reply:
I actually remember that the sound was slightly dipped at the end of the word as we went to the wide… but it was very clear what she said. I also remember the general air of embarrassment in the studio on that final shot. It was bloody great.
* * *
I can’t imagine this particular gem ever being unearthed. Anna must have presented hundreds of editions of Central News East; I can’t even give you a year, or the name of her co-presenter, or any of the stories featured in that edition. My memory tells me I actually recorded it on VHS; my memory also tells me I recorded over it shortly afterwards, like a damn fool.
Nowadays, that clip would probably end up all over YouTube. Back then, unless it made it onto It’ll Be Alright on the Night – and I’m sure this didn’t, or else we’d all know the clip – it would often just disappear into the ether. I don’t think it even made it onto one of Central’s blooper-filled Christmas tapes. Unless someone who worked on the show remembers it and made a note of when it was, I can’t imagine it’ll ever be seen.
Which is a little unsatisfying. So instead, I can offer you the following Anna Soubry clip from Central’s 1985 Christmas tape1. At 11:42, dealing with people who look old enough to know better:
A shade over six years ago, I launched a companion Dirty Feed Tumblr. It was really meant as a scratchpad; a place to post various odd things, with the idea that some of the ideas over there might turn into proper articles over here on the main site.
And for a fair while, I kept it updated with all kinds of stuff. A glance through the archives is like a peek into a cross-section of my brain, albeit slightly more pleasant than that sounds. Endless pictures of my obsessions.
But slowly, I drifted away from Tumblr. I never managed to find much of a community over there like I did on Twitter, and I never figured out why that was. Were there less people into the stuff I’m into over there? Are they actually there, but I just didn’t find them? Did I not make enough of an effort to hunt like-minded people down and reblog their stuff? I still don’t really know the answer: all I know is that Twitter clicked with me, and Tumblr never quite did.
In October last year, I quietly said goodbye to the site, and that was the end of it. Well, nearly. Tumblr then announced their ridiculous ban on porn1, so I passive-aggressively updated my last post to make it clear I really was never coming back.
Not that anybody really cared. Which was kinda the problem in the first place.
I’m not interested in having the debate here as to why Tumblr banning porn is ridiculous; there are plenty of other places where you can do that. I will say though, that the thing which annoys me most is that the ban disproportionately affects women, as Tumblr had become one of the few places online where women routinely went for porn. ↩
It has to be admitted that nice comments about Come Back Mrs. Noah – Lloyd and Croft’s 70s sitcom about a spacebound housewife – are rather thin on the ground. Having just watched the pilot episode on YouTube, I honestly don’t think it’s quite as bad as its reputation, although doing a racist joke about Notting Hill six minutes into the episode does push your goodwill rather. And the less said about the tea maker gag the better.
But enough about that. I want to highlight something interesting about that pilot, which is an effects technique I’ve never seen before. It takes place in Mission Control, where the ground crew are trying to sort out the fault with the spacecraft. And we get these two consecutive shots of the monitoring equipment they’re using to troubleshoot the fault:
Clearly, there was only one source available for the yellow overlay oscilloscope effect, but they wanted to show it from two separate angles. The solution? They designed things so the same overlay effect would work for each shot, despite the two shots being entirely different!
You can see it in action here:
It may look a little odd to modern eyes, but it’s a really clever, thinking-outside-the-box solution. You can’t do two different effects? Then make sure your single effect works from two angles.
Today, I want to talk about It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. Not the sad death of Windsor Davies, or whether the programme is racist1. This is Dirty Feed, and I have higher things in mind.
The show premiered in January 1974 on BBC1 with a first series of eight episodes.2 The first episode, however, was a true pilot, recorded a full year before air, and separately from the other seven episodes. David Croft’s autobiography, You Have Been Watching…, p. 196:
“The first pilot programme in January 1973 went very well with the studio audience and featured probably the smallest riot ever experienced by the British in India. There was no room in the studio for a proper full-scale riot mob, and we couldn’t afford one anyway. I made do with about ten shadowy figures in the foreground, but the result didn’t bear examination.3 I was present at the odd riot in India and they are extremely frightening affairs. Police and troops are usually heavily outnumbered and very scared, so ghastly mistakes can easily happen. The remainder of the show was a good pilot and served to introduce the characters and the general thrust of the plots, as any pilot should.”
Despite being shot at a different time to the rest of the series, there really are very few differences between that pilot episode Meet the Gang, and the rest of Series 1. But there is one major change: the closing titles. In the pilot, the gang song is all shot on VT in the studio. For the rest of Series 1, it was completely remounted on film.