So many of us have vivid TV memories than seemingly nobody else remembers.
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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.
The aforementioned Shaun Keaveny, 6 Music, 9th January 2019, on a listener talking about their kid playing Minecraft:
“If he’s playing it, I don’t mind that. It’s watching my children sometimes watching a kid playing Minecraft on YouTube which beggars belief for an analogue person. The other day, I saw a kid watching a kid playing Minecraft on YouTube, and a kid watching over his shoulder. It’s like Russian dolls, isn’t it? Absolutely insane.”
Let’s take a little trip back to my childhood. I remember watching and loving my sister play games on our BBC Master. I remember watching and loving my friend Joel play games on his Archimedes. And I remember being at a Scout activity weekend, where by far the best thing that happened all weekend was gathering around our leader’s Amiga and watching each other play games.1
I totally get that Shaun Keaveny is not trying to be the voice of youth. But 6 Music hiring DJs which don’t even manage to keep up-to-date with what was happening in the early 90s – or, indeed, far earlier – is not a good look. People watching other people play videogames is not a new thing in any way whatsoever. It’s been going on for decades.
By the way, the fact I didn’t invent Twitch and make millions of pounds despite being well aware that people love watching other people playing games will haunt me to my deathbed.
The other amazing thing which happened that weekend was the sex scene in Problem Child 2 making me feel a bit funny. ↩
The kind of person who wanders into a conversation, sees that the obvious point hasn’t been made yet… and so goes ahead and makes it. The reason the obvious point hasn’t been made is because it’s already been made endlessly, and people are trying to talk about something from a different angle. You do not need to fill in the “gap”.
And don’t be the kind of person who sees somebody dancing around a point… and just blunders in and outright states the point instead. Missing the fact that it was the dance itself which was entertaining. Reading between the lines can sometimes be half the joy.
Conversations – on Twitter, or indeed anywhere – are not an exam paper. You do not need to prove your knowledge to get points, nor does a conversation have to cover EVERY SINGLE THING about a topic in order to be worthwhile. And for the love of all that is good in the world, please allow people to approach a topic with a little playfulness sometimes.
Fun, interesting stuff happens in the shadows. Dragging every conversation back to “the main point”, or stamping down on anything slightly whimsical at every turn in favour of the bald facts straightforwardly presented, is really, really tedious.
Please don’t be That Person. We don’t build a better world by being boring.
“Hey there, John. What’s this?”
“It’s a list of all my favourite articles I’ve published on Dirty Feed in 2018.” “But don’t you usually wait until the 1st January to post that?
“Yes.” “Just so you could anally point out that you only post your yearly roundup once the year is actually over, unlike everyone else?”
“Yes.” “Does this mean you’re dumbing down your material to chase a more mainstream audience?”
“Yes. Could you go away now, please?” “A mainstream audience that you’re never going to achieve, incidentally.”
Right. I’ve had enough of writing worthy stuff that nobody is interested in. As 2018 comes to a close, I think it’s about time I did something which is just all-out populist. I am more than happy to throw my dignity under a bus for the sake of shareable content.
Here’s when all your favourite TV shows really jumped the shark.
“At an event co-hosted by BBC Director-General Tony Hall and Shane Allen, Controller of Comedy Commissioning, it was announced that BBC One will host the annual Ronnie Barker Comedy Lecture, to be given by a key comedy figure to share his or her experiences and to help inspire others, as well as addressing the present-day challenges and opportunities facing the industry.
Akin to the Reith and Dimbleby lectures, the Ronnie Barker Comedy Lecture’s aim is to articulate why comedy matters so much, both on a personal level and how it helps to reflect and define our national character. An inaugural speaker announcement will be made shortly.”
“The inaugural Ronnie Barker Comedy Lecture speaker is multi-award-winning comedian, novelist, playwright, film maker and creator of classic sitcoms The Young Ones, Blackadder, The Thin Blue Line and Upstart Crow, Ben Elton. He is introduced by Sir David Jason.
Recorded at the BBC’s Radio Theatre in front of an invited audience from the world of comedy, the lecture is named after the much-loved comedy writer and performer Ronnie Barker, star of The Two Ronnies, Porridge and Open All Hours.”
And what did David Jason say in his introduction in the programme itself?
DAVID JASON: I’m so pleased that the BBC have decided to institute an annual lecture on the art of comedy.
The point: the programme was conceived as an annual lecture, and was described as an annual lecture in the programme itself. With 2018 drawing to an end, then, it seems an appropriate time to ask: where the bloody hell has it gone?
It’s annoying. And it’s annoying because the idea of the lecture was such a fantastic one. I can think of few things better than a funny person talking about comedy for 45 minutes, and then broadcasting it to the nation. “Educational but entertaining… perfect BBC output”, you might say. With the best will in the world, how difficult is it to get someone funny to stand in the Radio Theatre for a while and bang on about comedy?
Indeed, I would argue that naming the lecture after Ronnie Barker and then giving up after a year is a tad disrespectful. If they really weren’t sure they could make it an annual event, it was unwise to sell it as one. They could have just named last year’s The Ben Elton Comedy Lecture, do it potentially as a one-off, and give themselves some leeway.
Still, surely there isn’t a struggle for things to talk about. Last year, Ben Elton made the case for studio sitcom – a topic extremely relevant to Ronnie Barker’s work. I would argue another topic equally as relevant to Barker is the current dearth of sketch comedy on television. The odd show like Tracey Breaks the News aside, there’s virtually nothing – and the lack of sketch shows on TV is incredibly damaging to the health of comedy in 2018. True, if the BBC broadcast that lecture, plenty of people would just yell “commission some, then”. But the BBC has a long and proud history of self-flagellation, and I don’t see why this should be any different.
Although at this point, I’d probably settle for somebody standing on stage and telling us YouTube is the future of comedy. Anything, in fact, than a great idea being thrown away so quickly. I mean, I thought there was a possibility it might peter out after three years or so.
I’ve got to admit, it’s been fun writing these. I sometimes find Red Dwarf a little hard to write about these days; we’ve all talked about the old shows endlessly, so going over the same old thing can feel a little dull. Meanwhile, the new shows don’t really capture my imagination in a way which makes me want to write about them. But this really is a topic that hasn’t been talked about in quite this way before. I’ve watched those old shows countless times, but when you put everything else aside just to look at how those sets were put together, it’s amazing what new things you can spot.
I sometimes think there are two kinds of people. Those who understand why I find stuff like deleted scenes, unbroadcast pilots, and the reuse of sets to be fascinating… and those who can’t even begin to understand. I don’t think it’s even a geeks v. non-geeks thing per se: there are plenty of geeks who only care about a show in-universe, and possibly its cast members, rather than how the show was put together.
They won’t get a single thing out of this. But if you’re a silly person like me, then hopefully you’ll enjoy them.