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07.01.17

The World Is Burning

Posted 7th January 2017

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Eileen Webb, “Productivity in Terrible Times”:

“When your heart is worried for your Muslim friends, and deep in your bones you’re terrified about losing access to healthcare, it’s very hard to respond graciously to an email inquiring about the latest microsite analytics numbers. “THE WORLD IS BURNING. I will have those content model updates ready by Thursday. Sincerely, and with abject terror, Eileen.”

It is not tenable to quit my job and hie off to Planned Parenthood HQ and wait for them to make use of my superior content organizing skills. It is not a good idea for you to resign from stable work that supports your family and community because you’re no longer satisfied by SQL queries. The Trevor Project needs your donation more than they need a JS developer proficient in easing animation.”

Jason Kottke:

“I don’t know about you, but I have been struggling mightily with this very thing. I’ve always had difficulty believing that the work I do here is in some way important to the world and since the election, that feeling has blossomed into a profound guilt-ridden anxiety monster. I mean, who in the actual fuck cares about the new Blade Runner movie or how stamps are designed (or Jesus, the blurry ham) when our government is poised for a turn towards corruption and authoritarianism?

I have come up with some reasons why my work here does matter, at least to me, but I’m not sure they’re good ones. In the meantime, I’m pressing on because my family and I rely on my efforts here and because I hope that in some small way my work, as Webb writes, “is capable of enabling righteous acts”.”

I have a good reason. Whatever shit is going on in the world, it does not make everything else unimportant. Life doesn’t work like that. At best that’s a route to giving yourself mental health issues, and at worst it leads to extremism itself.

To take Jason’s three examples. “The new Blade Runner movie” is related to a film which is widely regarded as one of the most important and influential films ever made. The horrific politics and actual human suffering happening in the world at the moment doesn’t stop that from being interesting and important. “How stamps are designed” can only be dismissed if we’re going to think art isn’t important any more – and I don’t want to be associated with anyone who thinks that.

And the blurry ham? Take a look at it. Yes, that’s a fun optical illusion. But let’s state what optical illusions are really about: how we all perceive the world. If anything, that’s even more important now than it was six months ago. That blurry ham is not about ham.

We can all dismiss and belittle our own work, for various reasons. Maybe we’re frustrated by state of the world and wish we could do more. In my case, it’s that I don’t want to be seen as arrogant. Let’s take an example of something I wrote recently over on Ganymede & Titan, about edits made to pre-watershed showings of Red Dwarf XI. It’s hardly the most important article in the world. A few changes made to a couple of episodes of a sitcom, big deal. I put aside hours of my time to rewatch the whole series and write that?

But worries about arrogance or not, the fundamental issues considered in that article are bigger than that. That piece is talking about broadcast standards in television. It’s talking about who has the right to make changes to a television programme. It’s talking about how you can remove material from a programme and still keep the meaning of a scene. And finally, it’s talking about the very nature of comedy, and how the taboo subjects affect it. In its own way, that piece of writing is as political as anything I’ll ever write, and there’s not a mention of Trump or Brexit in sight.

Just because there are absolutely atrocious things happening, and that some people are suffering hugely because of it, that doesn’t mean other things aren’t important. Because if we never think anything else is important aside from people’s suffering, we invalidate 99% of human endeavour. Nobody needs me to list a catalogue of atrocities… and beside it, list all the other important things which were happening in the world at the exact same time.

We should all care about the terrible things going on. We should all make sure we’re doing something to make the world better. But never feel guilty talking about your silly things.

Because they’re not really that silly, you know.

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25.12.16

A George & Mildred Christmas

Posted 25th December 2016

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George and Mildred in bed

Watching things on DVD has an odd habit of hiding patterns in TV shows, as well as showing them. For all that watching classic Doctor Who exposes the runaround nature of some of the middle episodes in a serial, if you’re watching the show out of order, the links between serials go awry. Even if you decide to watch a programme like, say, George & Mildred completely in order, the fact that the show had a Christmas episode each year between 1977 and 1979 is easy to go unnoticed.

Let’s take some notice, shall we?

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03.12.16

“Network, we’ll have to come back and do the draw…”

Posted 3rd December 2016

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BBC 1, 30th November 1996, 7:50pm, The National Lottery Live. And a 15-year-old John Hoare, already over-excited from Noel’s House Party, watches in wonder as his other very favourite thing in the whole world happens: the telly goes wrong.

Yes, it’s the infamous 107th draw, where the lottery machine failed to act as a lottery machine and draw some damn balls. Like many TV moments I didn’t record on VHS, the memory faded over the years… until some kind soul uploaded it to YouTube back in 2010. Brilliantly, the video includes both the initial failure of the machine, and the hastily-improvised update show which aired after Casualty, where the balls were drawn successfully.

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18.09.16

A Year in the Life of Blockbusters

Posted 18th September 2016

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The most popular thing I’ve published here on Dirty Feed this year has been this piece on the title sequence to Blockbusters, scanned from the 1989 Blockbusters annual. Never let it be said that I’ll pass up the opportunity to scan a few pages and profit from someone else’s hard work, rather than actually writing something informative myself.

With that in mind, then, here’s a couple more pieces from said annual. Firstly, here’s producer/director Jenny Dodd, on a year in the life of the show. (On the second page of that article is a wide shot featuring a brief look at the complicated projector setup used for the game board. Has anyone else got a close-up of this famed contraption?)

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13.09.16

Hi-de-Hi! Edits #1: Raiding the Funny Cupboard

Posted 13th September 2016

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Jeffrey looking confused

The first episode of Hi-de-Hi! is one of my favourite sitcom pilots of all time.1 And for at least the next four series, Hi-de-Hi! is one of my favourite sitcoms of all time. This is for so many reasons, all of which is worth an article in itself, but put simply: my favourite thing about the show is that it’s the perfect mix of everything. Every single kind of comedy I love is embedded into its soul. A show that doesn’t sneer at broad comedy, yet includes moments of amazing subtlety. It knows the magic is in the blend of the two.

Recently, BBC Two have started another repeat run of the show in their Afternoon Classics slot. I’ve long meant to do a full comparison of these broadcast versions of the show compared to my DVD copy – which fully admits on the back that “for contractual reasons certain edits have been made”. I was mainly expecting just the odd music change – but actually, the changes have ended up being rather more interesting than I ever imagined, and for the the pilot at least, actually ask rather more questions of the broadcast repeat than of the DVD.

Let’s take a look, shall we? Just to clarify, the two versions we are comparing are:

Neither of these versions, you will note, is what was actually transmitted originally on the 1st January 1980. So, which version is closest to that original edit? We can perhaps make an educated guess about that later.

All times given are for the DVD version of the episode, so even if you didn’t record the repeat broadcast version, you can skip to see exactly where the changes are. Cut dialogue in the repeat broadcast version is like this.

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  1. Along with ‘Allo ‘Allo!, You Rang, M’Lord?, Dad’s Army, It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum, and… hang on, there’s some kind of link here that I can’t quite put my finger on. 

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06.09.16

Blade Runner Afternoons

Posted 6th September 2016

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One of my most vivid television memories as a child was the title sequence to Blockbusters.1 Every afternoon I’d lie in front of the fire, and that gorgeous neon cityscape would transport me to another world.

I often wondered how it was made… and the answer came when I ended up in hospital, and I managed to borrow a copy of the 1989 Blockbusters Annual. Contained within was a four page feature on how the titles were made. I devoured it… and then had to give the annual back at the end of my stay when I had the temerity to get better. I never managed to trace down a copy over the years, and in the end those pages became a distant memory.

Nowadays, I’m an adult, and eBay is a thing. And this morning, I finally saw that feature I hadn’t seen for over twenty years. If anything, it’s even more detailed than I remember, with many absolutely gorgeous behind-the-scenes photos… and well worth sharing with you lot.

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  1. Technically, the second title sequence – the first is nice enough, but nowhere near as good as the famous one. 

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02.06.16

Who Framed Michael Eisner

Posted 2nd June 2016

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When it comes to rumours and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, you all know the drill. Eddie Valiant and Jessica chase Judge Doom out of Toontown, they crash spectacularly, sail through the air, Jessica’s dress hitches up, and you may or may not be able to see her hairy minge. The whole thing has been investigated in great detail, although frankly not quite enough detail for my taste.

Still, that’s not what this piece is about. No, my query is about another rumour associated with the film – and specifically, about this scene in Toontown with Eddie:

allyson

We’ll let the previously linked to Snopes article give us the basics (emphasis mine):

“In another scene, Bob Hoskins steps into a Toon Town men’s room. Graffiti on the wall reads “For a good time, call Allyson Wonderland”, with the phrase “The Best Is Yet to Be” appearing underneath it. Allegedly, Disney chairman Michael Eisner’s phone number replaces the latter phrase for one frame. Although the “Allyson Wonderland” graffiti is clearly visible on laserdisc, Eisner’s phone number is not. If the phone number was in the film originally (as rumor has it was), it was removed before the home versions of the movie were made available.”

The removal of this phone number seems to apply to every single home version of the film I – or seemingly anyone – has ever come across. LaserDisc, VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, the lot. If Eisner’s phone number was ever there in the film’s theatrical release, it’s gone from the retail versions. If is was ever there, of course. Because without evidence, this really starts to take on the feeling of an urban legend. Notably, Snopes has no actual evidence to offer, and the article goes out its way to label the phone number story as a rumour.

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20.03.16

Fawlty Towers: A Touch of Class

Posted 20th March 2016

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Fawlty Towers sign from pilot episode

19th September 1975, 9pm, BBC2, and the first programme of a little series called Fawlty Towers is broadcast. And whilst most of that first series of Fawlty Towers was shot in the summer of 1975, the very first episode – A Touch of Class – was recorded eight months earlier, in December 1974. The reason for this is simple: that first programme was a pilot. Unlike some programmes, which are re-recorded entirely for their first episode1, most of that pilot made it to air more or less in its original form. For instance, the opening sign is a different design in the pilot episode compared to every single other programme in the first series, and the theme music is also a different recording. Indeed, you wonder why, when it came to broadcast, they didn’t at least change the opening titles to be consistent with the other episodes, but I digress.

Fawlty Towers - opening titles from A Touch of Class

Opening titles from A Touch of Class

Fawlty Towers - opening titles from The Builders

Opening titles from The Builders

One detail, however, was changed between the initial pilot recording, and its broadcast. Polly was originally meant to be a philosophy student – and that’s what she was in that pilot episode. For the series, they decided to change her to being an art student – and so they reshot parts of the pilot to incorporate the change. To quote John Cleese, in an interview on the 2001 DVD release:

CLEESE: She in the pilot episode was a philosophy student, and we didn’t feel that worked as well as art student, so we re-recorded just a little – maybe four or five minutes – and cut that into the first episode before it was transmitted to the general public.

The obvious question to ask, then – at least, if you’re me – is: which parts of the transmitted episode were reshot? And was it really four or five minutes of material? But whilst you could easily guess about one section which was reshot, for years that was all the information we really had about the change.

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  1. Citizen Smith is a good example of a show which had a pilot, and then was completely reshot for its first episode broadcast six months later – both are on the DVD, and it’s fascinating to compare them. 

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20.12.15

‘The Quatermass Experiment’ Experiment

Posted 20th December 2015

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Quatermass addressing the nation

On the 2nd April 2005, BBC Four broadcast the BBC’s first live drama for over 20 years: a remake of The Quatermass Experiment, starring Jason Flemyng. It had a mixed reaction at the time – and indeed since – but I thought it was absolutely fabulous. Both as a programme in itself… and to finally watch a complete version of that first Quatermass story which doesn’t involve Brian Donlevy.

On the 31st October 2005, the DVD of the programme was released. Right at the beginning of the show, this caption was added:

Additional opening DVD caption

This caption is a blatant lie.

The version of the programme on DVD is not what audiences saw live on the 2nd April. It is, in fact, an entirely different edit. If you’re familiar with the programme, perhaps you’ve heard that one scene was replaced with a version from the rehearsal due to an actor drying, or that an off-screen crash was trimmed. Both are true; however, this is far from the full story. The programme was extensively re-cut, with many changes made across the entire programme.

I think you can see where this is leading. Below is a list of all the changes made to the DVD version compared to the programme’s original broadcast. All times given are for the DVD release, so even if you haven’t got access to the original version, you can still tell at which point a change was made.

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19.10.15

Hearts of Darkness: The Thrilling Conclusion

Posted 19th October 2015

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Screengrab from Hearts of Darkness. Everybody in the car looking annoyed.

This is a continuation from Part One of this article, about edits to the One Foot in the Grave episode “Hearts of Darkness”. Make sure you read that first – this won’t make any sense without it…

“On BBC 1 now, One Foot in the Grave. When a day in the country turns sour, and disturbing practices are brought to light, Victor Meldrew comes to the rescue.”

Continuity announcement for the first broadcast of “Hearts of Darkness”

Finally, we have it. After many years of wondering, I’ve finally tracked down a copy of the original broadcast version of “Hearts of Darkness”. Many thanks to go Andy Walmsley for digging out his recording. I am eternally grateful.

And his effort is well rewarded. Because what we’ve found is even more interesting than we might have guessed. Because no, the DVD version isn’t the same as the original broadcast, as I suspected in my last article. But neither is it the expected edited version either.

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