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.
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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.
You know the kind of person I mean.
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?
“Just so you could anally point out that you only post your yearly roundup once the year is actually over, unlike everyone else?”
“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.”
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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.
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BBC Media Centre, 4th March 2015:
“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.”
Sure enough, broadcast on the 25th August 2017:
“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.
But after one is just ridiculous.
This year, I have been writing for Red Dwarf fansite Ganymede & Titan for a full 15 years. Anybody sensible would think that was more than enough, and go and do something else instead.
Spoiler: I am not sensible.
Recently I published two articles over there which might interest you, taking a look at the set design of the first couple of series. There’s this piece about the reuse of a certain corridor set, and then there’s this piece about the disappearing and reappearing Captain’s Office set. These are the first two parts of an ongoing series which should continue into next year.
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.
On a short trip to Amsterdam last weekend, I visited Anne Frank House, somewhere which feels depressingly relevant to 2018 in a way I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. And while I am not a religious man, when I actually walked into the Secret Annex, where Anne hid with seven others for two years… it’s the closest I’ve ever felt to stepping into a sacred place.
I cannot hope to get across my feelings as I walked round the annex. But I want to just mention one thing that I found really striking.
As you enter the museum, you pick up an audio guide from the wall. You can either use your own headphones, or just stick the guide next to your ear. As you cross into the various rooms – and up some startlingly steep staircases – you scan the number on the wall, and off you go.
Except when you reach the Secret Annex. The entrance stands before you, hidden by a movable bookcase. And your audio guide calmly informs you… no, there won’t be any entries while you’re in the annex. You’re on your own. They’ll pick up again once you leave.
This does a number of things. It stops the perhaps slightly tasteless sight of a load of tourists walking around the annex with an audio guide jammed up against their ear. More importantly, it makes each visitor to stop, and actually experience the annex first hand, rather than zone out listening to someone else talk about it. It forces you to actually be there, in other words.
But subtly, it does something else. It says: this part of the museum is different. That it’s all very well walking around the rest of the house, half looking around, half listening to the audio guide… but the annex is special. This is not just another random part of a random museum, where data flaps unbidden into your mind.
And so, when you leave… it lingers.
…or certainly up there, anyway.
I’ve talked before about Jon Wolfert’s Sunday Jingle Show, and how you should all be listening to it. If you can’t be bothered to click on that link: Sundays, 3pm ET/8pm GMT on Rewound Radio, stuffed full of great radio and advertising jingles.
Well, usually great, anyway. Unless I send in a request to the show. Then, I’m afraid, you get the dregs.
Download “Rewound Radio (04/11/18) – Ecology” (12.5MB MP3, 8:41)
After a week’s break, the show is back tonight. So if you want to listen to someone who knows damn well what they’re talking about take a little trip through the history of radio, then give it a listen.
It’s often the highlight of my week; if you like the kind of thing I post here, I think it could be yours, too.
Here’s something from the Radio Times, brought to my attention via TV Forum: an odd little piece about the BBC2 Dad’s Army ident that never was.
Odd, because unused TV idents aren’t exactly the kind of thing the Radio Times usually writes about. I mean, I’d love it if it was, but let’s face it: the only reason this article was published is because it’s about Dad’s Army, a sitcom everyone is still obsessed over, despite the fact that It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, Hi-de-Hi!, and You Rang, M’Lord? are all much better.
Enough of my irritating opinions on comedy. I’m here to give some irritating opinions on TV presentation instead. Let’s take a look at the rejected ident in question:
I mean, it’s beautiful. Really beautiful. Very nicely animated, and the inclusion of the Isle of Wight on the 2 really sells it as what it’s supposed to be. In and of itself as a standalone thing, it’s one of the best pieces of TV presentation I’ve seen for ages. It’s clearly made with a tremendous amount of love and respect for the show.
It wouldn’t have worked as an ident in front of Dad’s Army. Not even remotely.
You could perhaps query the inclusion of Nazi symbols on a piece of TV presentation, but that’s not my main problem with it. Nor is my problem covered in the reason the BBC gave for rejecting it:
“Ultimately, however, the BBC decided not to use the homage to those original opening credits. “They said some very nice things about it and it was clearly something that was under discussion for some time,” continues Norton. “However, they told us that they wanted to move away from content-specific idents on BBC2 and wanted more general idents that could serve all programmes across the channel.”
Here’s my problem with it: stop thinking of the proposed ident as a nice standalone piece of video, and start thinking of how it actually would have been used, in front of an episode of Dad’s Army. Just imagine the ident running, the announcer talking over it, introducing the episode… and then going into the actual title sequence, which looks identical. It would be such a weird, jarring repetition of what you’d just seen. Something which looks utterly magical in isolation, would look naff when used in context.1
Linear television is more than just individual elements, slammed next to each other. What the viewer has just seen impacts on what they’re just about to see. And as the various parts of television get ever-more siloed off, seeing the big picture of what is transmitted when everything gets put together becomes more and more difficult. It’s vital that this overview is protected, and strengthened, across all of television.
Otherwise, you don’t just end up with the oddity of seeing a pastiche of a title sequence followed by the real title sequence. You end up with idents accidentally mocking the dead.