Archive for the ‘Arts’ Category

William Who?

tmp_18670-shakespeare_original-320x199925372887We will soon be encouraged to celebrate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. We will gorge on iambic pentameters, stuff ourselves with quotations, fill the airwaves with sonnets and listen to lovies expound the importance of the Shakespeare plays to human understanding.

Going to a secondary modern school in the early 1960s meant focusing on vocational subjects supported by basic literacy, numeracy together with a little geography and history. Shakespeare was something for the kids at the grammar school and highbrow people. Fortunately in later life I discovered his works and the way he used language.

The one question I have asked but still awaits a credible answer is whether he simply drew on the language around him or was he a very inventive writer?

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Radio Sundays

Round The HorneThe constancy of my childhood provides many fond memories, particularly the sanctuary that Sunday provided. Sunday lunch was the only time you could guarantee my father would be sitting at the head of the table and the meal would be a treasure of treats and abundance that left one sated beyond that necessary for life. It always ended with on of my mothers wonderful pudding, rich and sweet giving us a rare sugar rush.

Post Sunday lunch we would all recline in the sitting room to listen to the BBC Light Programme broadcast a comedy gem such as Navy Lark, the Clitheroe Kid, Hancocks Half Hour and the Glums. The apparent simplicity of the humour belies the skill that writers such as Lawrie Wyman, George Evans, James Casey, Frank Roscoe, Frank Muir and Denis Norden. These programmes created real characters that had us in hysterics and still frequent my MP3 player or are enjoyed on BBC Radio 7.

The most skilful and perhaps my favourite is Round the Horne that developed from Beyond Our Ken written by Eric Merriman. Barry Took and Marty Feldman wrote the scripts and poked fun at the straight laced programme controllers without them realising what was happening. The adventures of the camp couple Julian and Sandy at a time when homosexuals were imprisoned thumbed a very big nose at the puritans. There are some good quality comedy programmes on the radio but very few are as enduring or as creative as those of the golden age of the 1950s and 60s.

Yorkshire Tea and Yorkshire Humour

yorkshireteatimeThe current series of Yorkshire Tea adverts featuring Graham David Fellows alter ego John Shuttleworth are a wonder, humour in a simple but very effective vein. Graham’s character of the Sheffield born singer songwriter is so well crafted you could well believe the person actually exists. His earlier appearance in the John Shuttleworth radio show was a slice of old style British humour that perfectly portrayed the slightly amateurish broadcasting attempts of a 50 year old who’s lack of talent and charisma never fail to hold him back.

Like many radio comedy shows it did try to make the big jump to TV but without any great success which is a pity as the addition of the visual element added greatly to the overall characterisation. The story line of the failed show tour of less that desirable venues with the added complication of having to travel by public transport were very funny, but limited in scope and longevity.

Local yokels have always been a good source of material for comedy programmes using their accents, quirky language and local traits to good effect. The BBC Radio Cambridge character Dennis of Grunty Fen is another brilliant example of the genre. A local hero who is completely batty while full of country wisdom. To end, here is one of my favourite Yorkshire jokes;

A Yorkshire man takes his cat to the vet:
Yorkshire man:”Ah’ve come to see thee abaht me cat.”
Vet:”Is it a tom?”
Yorkshire man:”Nay lad, I’ve browt it wi’ me.”

A Thriller In The Night

The Michael Jackson video Thriller was first shown in the UK on Channel 4 in the early hours of December 3, 1983. Channel 4 was barely a year old and had a reputation for being willing to break the mould of conventional TV. The screening of the video had been hyped and we were expecting something very special from the upstart TV channel, what we saw was extraordinary.

Michael Jackson and music producer Quincy Jones had been producing amazing music that was much better than the Motown orientated style of the Jackson Five. Then along came Thriller, directed by John Landis, this was a mini movie, a complete story wrapped into a music video that set the standard for all music videos to come. The industry realised the music video was an artistic entity in its own right not just a vehicle to advertise a song or to fill time on the other new kid on the block MTV which was its self just over two years old.

Michael Jackson had already broken the colour barrier on MTV with his Billie Jean video what followed with Thriller was history in the making. A few people had been calling him the King of Pop, that night confirmed his position. Controversy may have dogged his later life, but you cannot deny his place in music history and the influence he has had and will continue to have on many people.

Saturday Morning At The Flicks

loughtoncinimaI am pleased to see the growth in cinema audiences has continued over the past few years. Saturday morning pictures at the Century Cinema were a regular feature of our weekends during the late 1950s and early 1960s. There was a regular cartoon spot, a serial such as Hop-along Cassidy, quizzes and a feature presentation.

On the way out the ushers would stand in the middle of the exit handing out packets of bubblegum. it you were very quick you could fight your way back through the crowd to collect a second packet. During my early teens a Friday or Saturday evening at the pictures also provided an opportunity to get close-up to a girl who, with luck, might respond to your advances. The film was purely incidental unless you had managed to get into an X rated film. The aim was to get a good snogg in the back row.

This always won a lot of respect from your hormone-fuelled male friends. Getting to fondle some of the softer parts of the female anatomy would put you at the top of the league. When they were much younger I had the pleasure of encouraging my grandchildren to go to the flicks to give me a valid reason to see the latest films of a more juvenile nature. Fortunately many of them make allowances for the older audience by including obtuse comical references to more adult matters. My only regret is way the multiplex cinemas only tend to screen mainstream films and ignore many of the high quality films, particularly from aboard.

White Rabbit Day

It’s traditional that the first thing one says when waking up on the first of the month is ‘white rabbit’. If you are the first in the house to say it, you will be lucky for the rest of the month. I am usually the second up so I’m not sure if the luck bit works. We also said white rabbit to prevent someone saying and acting out, ‘pinch and a punch, fist day of the month’.

By coincidence white rabbit is the title of one of my favourite songs from the 1960s. Written by Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship. It was one of the first popular songs to openly refer to drugs and still get plenty of air play. The late 60s and early 70s was a time when musical styles were far more diverse than today.

The age of the manufactured band had yet to arrive; most bands served their apprenticeship in pubs and church halls, not as part of a reality TV show. For anything to endure it must be based on a solid foundation. The latest pop bands are based on little more than the money making ideas of the music industry and the whim of the public. Knowing how fickle that is I doubt if many will survive the way the club hardened bands of the 60s and 70s have.

Showcase For Hidden Talent

It’s the art exhibition weekend and our local church is open for tours of the entries from local artists amateur and professional. The range of items is very diverse and the quality very high. You never realise just how much talent there is in a small community until you visit an event like this.

There are paintings, quilts, knitting, stained glass, tapestry and carvings, all crafted by people who live in and around the village. My own craft skills were not on display; I have a few pottery and metalwork objects made while at school and have made several items of furniture using veered chipboard, but nothing to match the quality of the exhibits in the church.

That’s not to say I don’t do a good job. But they do lack that artistic flair that changes the utilitarian into a decorative object. If there are any decorative touched I have copied the idea from someone else’s creation. Arts and crafts were an item on my list of retirement To-Do’s, unfortunately I just have not had the time to even get to the first item on the list, retirement is proving to be too busy an occupation.

Radio Days For Free

The web site http://www.archive.org is a depositary of copyright free films, music, books, software and old radio programmes from the UK and America. Many of these programmes I remember from my youth and include a few of my favourites; such as the delightfully simple but funny Clitheroe Kid, Educating Archie and The Men From the Ministry. Elsewhere on the internet you can find the Sci-Fi series I followed avidly as a kid; Lost in Space.

There are also many American gems. I can recommend the Evening with George Burns. To think it was recorded back in the early 1980s as a bit of a ‘this was my life’ show, when he still had many years ahead of him. It may surprise those who think the BBC were the leaders in radio drama just how many good quality radio programmes were produced in the US, particularly in the 1940s and 50s.

At home, the BBC has been very remiss and slow in releasing these old shows on tape or through their digital station Radio 7. Unfortunately the station is plagued by repeats, sometimes it seems like they just play the same set of tapes year after year. I know many recordings have been lost over the years but what does exist is a public treasure and should be shared with all. The radio was a very important part of my childhood, and sites like the Internet Archive are a valuable resource.

OVO Ovation For The Millennium

For the second time in its troubled life the O2 Arena, formally the Millennium Dome, is up for sale and hitting problems. Its an edifice that seems it will forever be dogged with problems. I am probably one of a very small minority who actually enjoyed the whole Millennium experience at the Dome it was interesting, amusing and sometimes thought provoking.

The centre piece of the exhibition was the millennium show which combined spectacular aerial acrobatics with a serious message about the way we are abusing the world. Peter Gabriel’s music for OVO appears with great regularity on my MP3 player. It contains a wonderful mix of styles, messages and themes while together creating a complete musical entity of beauty and pleasure.

I visited the Dome twice and regret not going a third time, as there were some areas I did not manage to visit. In some respects it reminded me of the Boys and Girls Exhibitions that used to be held in London in the mid to late 1950. These relied as much on your imagination as they did on straight entertainment. Unfortunately they would probably fail to be of interest to the young generation of today, unless they were full of video games, cartoons and the trapping of fashionable brand names.

High Cost And Poor Quality Cause CD Blues

While music industry chiefs are busy shouting about the impact of piracy they are missing the real reason for the slump in CD sales. The high cost and the lack of good quality output. It’s only through the off shore internet sites such as CD WoW that CDs can be bought at a reasonable price. Most high street shops, even the big players are charging too high a price for a product that only costs a few pennies to produce even accounting for the fees of the performers and composers.

When cassettes replaced LPs the cost went up even though the production costs were less. When CDs replaced cassettes the cost went up again although the production costs reduced even further. Its been one big rip-off after another. I rarely buy a full price CD in a shop sticking to the sale items and occasional bargains. I also buy considerably less and don’t buy on spec any more. Too many promising CDs have turned out to be one-track-wonders.

I do not have any bootleg CDs and I’m very wary of buying any. There are too many stories of boot-leg rip-offs with poor sound reproduction and no sleeve notes. The answer to the problem is in the industry’s own hands. While it is cheaper to buy a Japanese import of a Paul Williams CD and Supermarkets seem to be able to undercut music shops and still make a profit I’ll continue to keep most of my cash in my pocket instead of handing it over to the music moguls.