Sweet memories of The Brits

Robbie Williams at the Brit Awards 99

Robbie Williams at the Brit Awards 99

It occurs to me that one of the things I can do with this blog is recount various hilarious stories, old and new, of life in the television fast lane. And of life in the slow lane, now that I’ve pulled over to let the boy racers get past. I’m observing the speed limits these days so I’ll see all those boy racers at the roundabout or the next set of roadworks.

You do know I write this whole blog with my tongue stuck firmly in my cheek, don’t you? So when I use a word such as “hilarious” it is to be taken lightly or not taken at all. As my best friends will tell you, I am not a funny person. If others occasionally find me amusing it is by accident rather than design. I merely aim to tell it like it is, or like it feels or felt to me at the time.

So, the Brit Awards take place tonight. I have just heard Chris Evans closing his breakfast Radio 2 show and swapping Brits memories with Ken Bruce. Both agreed that even the Brits amount to just another awards show which goes on for too long. I would add that despite the glamour even the most famous and apparently self-assured faces are slightly on edge on the night.

I have been to the Brits twice and my main question is: why the hell are they held on a weeknight? If you are a corporate guest of, say, ITV (who broadcast the Brits to an expectant nation) then once you are past the rock-concert-meets-film-premiere style security you drift to one of the corporate hospitality tables where you are plied with alcohol and so-so food before the actual awards start. There is pumping music, but you are in an echoey and initially quite cold arena (I went to Earl’s Court) which, let’s face it, wouldn’t be anyone’s first choice for dinner with 7 like-minded souls. Table in the middle of this vast, dark aircraft hanger, madam? This way, please.

So you eat. You drink a lot, if you do that sort of thing. Then the awards start. On comes a star presenter or Davina McCall or a series of different presenters for different awards categories. It’s a tough audience to play to. At some point the screaming masses are let into the place, wearing wristbands and lacking access to anywhere except the pit in front of the main stage. Another lot of people – presumably mortals – file in to fill the rows and rows of seating around the place. Quite what the general public make of the corporate few, noshing their noodles at candle-lit tables on a specially constructed dias in full view of the rest of the proceedings is anyone’s guess. But at that point in the evening, none of the music or tv executives present actually care.

As I said, I’ve been to the Brits twice, both times courtesy of someone who was far too nice for the TV industry but hasn’t actually left it. Once Robbie Williams was the star turn and his Let Me Entertain You did exactly what it said on the tin. But Williams was already entering the stage of his career when he became disaffected with fame and his acceptance speech for one of the awards he garnered that night went something like this: “This is for my nephew. This was when your uncle Robbie was famous.” During half of his turn, Williams didn’t even trouble himself to mouth the words to his hit. Why bother, when several thousand adoring fans are singing for you.

The other year was the year Geri Halliwell appeared on stage from between a set of giant prosthetic ladies’ legs. The sets were quite good and, in that strange way of the turning world, I later discovered that the creator of Halliwell’s vaginal stage entrance lived in Suffolk close to friends of ours. I wrote about that at the time elsewhere.

So good luck to all of tonight’s Brits nominees and the various hacks and media executives assembled to adore and schmooze. Enjoy your night, especially if you are a guest of corporate hospitality. Try not to be sick before you leave and remember where your ride home is to be found at the end of the night. I shall be watching on ITV.

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The question we’re all asking

Chris Evans. BBC

That question is, of course, has Chris Evans changed? The DJ who went AWOL from Virgin Radio despite owning most if not all of it and who parted company with Radio 1 somewhat acrimoniously back in 1997. His brilliance became self-importance and he paid the ultimate price – years in a celebrity wilderness.

Now Evans is back on top after a successful run as Radio 2’s drivetime host and, from today, hosts the coveted Radio 2 breakfast show.

The question is: is Evans really a matured, more rounded character? Will he go home to his wife and young son after working at ungodly hours (7am til 9am) and eschew the long lunches that were his downfall ten, 15 years ago? For the sake of the BBC and Evans’ listeners I hope he has changed. But I feel a youthful part of myself dying as I make that wish.

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Ishoos with Twitter

stephenfry.com/blog. (C) Samfry Ltd 2009

Don’t get me wrong: I love Twitter. Just like I love Facebook and I don’t see them as mutually exclusive. We have an open relationship. I put my photos etc on Facebook, where I track who my so-called Friends are (a lot of them are colleagues, but it’s all a blur these days). I feed my status updates through from Twitter where I have very few followers, some of whom I don’t know from Adam. Or Eve.

But just as I don’t call in to radio shows with tips on what I do that’s a bit nutty but effective (pace Chris Evans‘ Radio 2 drivetime show – anyway my nuttiness is too freaky and involves not getting hair in the plughole), so I’m not sure I should be following celebs on Twitter. It’s fun to know that Jonathan Ross‘ wife had cupcake ice cream for breakfast yesterday and I’ve just watched this amusingly short interview with Stephen Fry after he tweeted about it. But I’m beginning to feel like I did in the early 1980s when I had a pash on a particular pop star and simply HAD to own every magazine that ever published an interview or photo spread with him. (That wasn’t hard in 1982 – you just had to buy Smash Hits every week and the occasional Just Seventeen.)

I can write off following Messrs Ross and Fry as a professional duty. As a journalist and blogger, I should experience these things so that I can comment on them. But in another sense I’m not exactly their “public”. I listen to Jonathan Ross, as regular readers of this blog will know only too well, and am a great admirer of Fry. But I’m more likely to come across them professionally than those who are truly members of their “public”. I guess this is a case of boundaries blurring once again. For now, Twitter is fun in a mildly distracting and sometimes fulfilling, information-sharing way and if it ceases to be so I imagine we’ll all just move onto the next thing.

PS: If you’re desperate to know who my girlhood crush was on, it was George Michael and I don’t care that he turned out gay and slightly rotund. Love forged in youth knows few bounds.

Do you love/hate Twitter? Go on – leave a comment. You might enjoy it!

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BBC in a pickle over Gaza

It clearly wasn’t enough for BBC director general Mark Thompson to post a defence of the corporation’s decision not to air an appeal for Gazan aid on a BBC News blog on Saturday evening. Noone appeared to have read it. The Sunday papers review on the otherwise execrable Radio 2 Michael Ball show made no mention of Mr Thomson’s defence and neither, clearly, did most of the papers themselves.

Instead Thompson had to bagsy the top slot on Radio 4’s Today programme, at 8.10am, to be grilled by presenter John Humphrys who thankfully didn’t change his acerbic technique even though he was interviewing his ultimate boss.

Thompson’s line appears to be that it would be too one-sided for the BBC to appeal for aid to Gaza and that what’s happening over there is best covered by BBC news programmes. The idea that the BBC was trying to keep its head below the parapet on the weekend that Jonathan Ross came back on air after his three-month suspension has crumbled like so much concrete under heavy artillery.

Now the BBC can justifiably say its own editorial decisions are coming under pressure from outsiders, not least the government which is in favour of the Gaza appeal. But the BBC is a publicly owned, publicly funded broadcaster and as such accountable to anyone and everyone “outside”. Has Thompson decided to get firm over the wrong issue?

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@Wossy: you were great

Jonathan Ross arrives for Saturday radio show. PA/BBC

So what did we all make of Mr Ross’ return to TV and radio last night and this morning? My highly scientific survey of a cross-section of the British public (one septuagenarian and a few presumably younger folk blogging here) suggests the oldies still don’t like him, the younger crowd still do.

In this new spirit of doing everything by the book, I must admit I missed a whole hour of Ross’ Radio 2 show today (kids’ ballet classes, dontcha know). But I was listening at the beginning to hear Ross apologise to his radio listeners for his misdemeanors of October last and to have just the slightest dig at the press: “I said sorry beforehand, but that message didn’t seem to have got out there. I got the feeling the newspapers hadn’t actually heard it, even though some of them printed it, so it was nice to go out there and get the chance to get that off my chest,” he said, referring to his apology on last night’s TV show.

Which reminds me of just how much he was slagging off the papers on one of his R2 shows before his suspension, digging away at the idea that “friends” as sources for celebrity stories means anything other than journalists making things up. Who said the papers were out to get their revenge last year? Wash your mouth out.

Ross did look a little nervous on his chat show when Lee Evans started getting jiggy. But by the last hour of his R2 show, Ross was his usual radio self: ebullient, professional (rocketing through the Elbow and Katy Brand interviews when it was clear the “quiz” had over-run), amusing, down-to-earth and just that tiny bit edgy. “Good luck with the diet,” he bid Elbow’s Guy Garvey. And he insisted Brand didn’t have to be “that cautious” as she tied herself in knots trying to retract a comment about Pat Butcher on crack. Music was good, too.

All in all, there’s something to get up for on Saturday mornings again. Just need to shift the ballet classes.

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Radio 2 needs an energy boost

I really should have something better to do (lots of things, in truth) but once again this weekend I was reminded of what a soulless place Radio 2 is without Jonathan Ross.

I didn’t even bother listening to whoever or whatever is standing in for his Saturday lunchtime show but was forced to listen to some of what was going on on Saturday afternoon, once the Charlie and Lola story on the in-car CD player had looped for the third time. Snow may be Lola’s favourite and her best, but the magic was beginning to fade after a couple of listens.

So it was we tuned in to Dermot O’Leary for a while. Normally I’ve nothing against Mr O’Leary’s afternoon efforts on a Saturday. It’s easy. It isn’t the god-awful “comedy” that comes on after Ross, which is immediatley switched off. O’Leary gets musicians in to play live sets. And I have a degree of loyalty because he’s a friend of a cousin.

But really, the lack of energy, wit, verve and general je ne sais quoi on his and so many other R2 programmes (Mr Ball included) is sadly exposed because Ross, the main star in the firmament, is missing.

BBC 1 controller Jay Hunt was right to praise Ross and his talents as a broadcaster. All those people who were so keen to gun him down should recognise exactly what they’ve done by shooting down the star. There’s a recession on and R2 is a grey place, devoid of sparkle without Ross on air.

I’m wishing for a digital radio for Christmas. Apparently Adam & Joe are quite good on 6 Music of a Saturday morn.

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Just say no to TOGs

I came across this story yesterday, on MailOnline and it’s scared the pants off me.

I’ve been terrified by the Daily Mail before, so that’s not a new experience. But the suggestion that Jonathan Ross might actually, in the real world, be replaced by Terry Wogan on Radio 2 on Saturday mornings is so tremendously discomfiting that I am right now excavating a bunker underneath my kitchen in which to hide from the modern world.

That’s right – the MODERN world, a world where surely to god the empurpled complexion and lilting Irish tones of Terry Wogan have no place. Certainly there should be no place for him on Saturday mornings on Radio 2. I don’t care if you can’t see his complexion on the radio. I can feel the heat of those vein-mottled cheeks in my listener’s mind’s eye.

Was Lesley Douglas’ work on Radio 2 for nothing? Someone at the Mail is having a laugh, aren’t they? Either that or the Mail hopes that by running such a ludicrous story it might gain credibility with the cardigan brigade at the BBC and become reality?

We need a campaign now. Say no to TOGs on Saturday mornings.

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What we want now is Ross!

Now I really want to hear from Jonathan Ross. He hasn’t spoken publicly about any of what’s happened since his infamous appearance on Radio 2’s Russell Brand Show on 18 October and he was last on air on his own R2 show on Saturday 25 October.

Does he think he’s been hung out to dry by the BBC? Has he been watching Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe on BBC 4 which is doing its best to make sure people still have something to complain about on the BBC?

Most importantly, will Ross return to Radio 2, supposedly on 24 January next year when his suspension ends, as if nothing has ever happened?

Speak to us, Jonathan. Your fans need you.

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Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand, again

Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand. BBC

So the BBC Trust – that collection of the great and the good who the government appoints to rule the BBC – has today published its conclusions on the famous Russell Brand Show/Jonathan Ross/Andrew Sachs farrago.

In short, the Trust led by affable but somewhat “senior” in age Sir Michael Lyons, has decided that Mr Ross’ comments about Brand effing Sachs’ grand-daughter were “so grossly offensive that there was no justification for its broadcast”. Radio 2 was guilty of failure on three levels: editorial control, allowing the comment to be recorded in the first place; compliance, by letting the comments slip through the checks and balances system for programming; and editorial judgement, by allowing the finished programme to go on air with the offensive remarks still in situ.

But the Trust hasn’t called for any more heads than have already rolled. It says the BBC management’s decision to suspend Ross and accept the resignations of R2 controller Lesley Douglas and presenter Russell Brand were “appropriate”.

Whether you agree that what was said by Ross and Brand was “offensive” or not (I don’t), the BBC Trust’s judgement is as interesting for what it doesn’t say as for what it does. No mention is made of how the BBC responded to the tsunami of complaints which built on Monday 27 October, the day after the Mail on Sunday and later editions of other Sunday newspapers including the Telegraph had both brought the comments to the general public’s attention and encouraged several thousand of them to complain about a programme they clearly hadn’t heard or felt strongly enough about to criticise when it was originally broadcast.

I still feel the BBC needs a stronger editorial champion than it appears to have. Admittedly the BBC Trust doesn’t exist to champion BBC editorial independence but to bring it to book on behalf of the rest of us as licence fee payers and the government which approves the BBC’s funding via the universal tax, the licence fee.

Will anyone from the BBC management – director general Mark Thompson? – be brave enough to stand up for comedy in all its forms, even if it offends some people? It will take a great deal of diplomacy, given the vociferous multitudes who have made sure we all know just how “offended” they are (more than 42,000 according to the BBC Trust).

Defending the BBC will also take a great deal of bravery, now that the Brand/Ross/Sachs row is being used by the anti-BBC brigade to try to bring the BBC’s funding back into question. Radio 4’s Today programme dedicated their “top slot” to debating the future of the licence fee at 8.10am this morning. Chief among the BBC’s critics is Charles Moore, a former editor of the Telegraph. Funny how it’s always the same names attacking the BBC.

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Irreverence on Radio 2

Paul O'Grady. Picture: BBC News

Thank the Lord for Paul O’Grady.

I am technically still boycotting Radio 2, in the post-Jonathan Ross/Russell Brand era, with a weary reluctance to return to what Miranda Sawyer has called its old-style golf club and cardigan programming. But some of my radios are still pre-tuned to the station, hence yesterday afternoon in the car I caught Mr O’Grady covering for someone on Radio 2, in his words, “online, on digital and on medication”.

He immediately apologised for his irreverence, insisting he’s not a radio professional and was merely “helping out”, presumably at the last minute. Thing is, when a personality doesn’t need to care about what they’re doing, they are usually at their best. Hence also O’Grady’s adlib after reading out a demurely worded apology for some “language” in a particular musical number. “What language? There was no language. Please God, can we not go back to a world of Songs of Praise and Alan Titchmarsh,” intoned Mr O’Grady in his trademark Scouse.

Hear, hear, Paul. And you were great. I doubt you’ll be invited back. Pity ex-Radio 2 controller Lesley Douglas: years of work kicking Parky and the like off air, all undone in the space of two weekends.

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