Archive for the ‘Celebrities’ Category

Late Christmas Presents…
December 30, 2010

David Cameron hasn’t had much to say for himself lately, leaving Cleggy to pick up the pieces of a coalition government in disarray, but he hasn’t taken his eye off the ball and was quickly off the mark yesterday cashing in on England’s Ashes victory by referring to it as a ‘great late Christmas present’.

There is nothing like sporting success to lift the mood of the nation and we certainly need it with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development already predicting unemployment is set to hit a seventeen year high during 2011. But that’s for another day…            

As expected it didn’t take too long for England to wrap up a historic innings victory on the fourth day of the 4th Test at the MCG.

There is no doubt this is not a great Australian team and before the series started, it could have been argued, on paper there was very little between the sides. However the Aussies, playing in their own backyard, have become so accustomed to pummeling the whingeing poms over the last 24 years that there was always an underlying feeling of inevitability about the eventual outcome.    

But not so, England have comprehensively out batted, out bowled and out fielded the Aussies, with the exception of the opening day of the series, in Brisbane, and a couple of sessions at Perth when Mitchell Johnson finally clicked into gear and bowled them briefly back into the series.

England’s preparation and attention to detail has been outstanding and much credit should go to Andy Flower’s coaching team and captain Andrew Strauss. All that now remains is to ensure, that with the Ashes secured, they don’t allow the Aussies any crumbs of comfort in the final Sydney Test.

With the Aussies in such disarray anything less than a 3-1 series victory might be considered disappointing!  How long is it since we have been able to say that?  

It will be interesting to see how the notoriously unsentimental Australian selectors deal with the Ponting question. He is great player at the fag-end of his career.

He could be dropped due to his dismal batting form, where unthinkably he is averaging just 16 for the series. Alternatively he could be omitted due to the hand injury, sustained in Perth, which he struggled with at the MCG.

Punter is nothing if not a battler and deserves a final chance to show that he isn’t quite finished.    

I’m sure celebrity cricket supporter Sir Elton John will have considered England’s victory the icing on his seasonal cake  following the announcement of his own special Christmas gift – a surrogate son born to him and his partner David Furnish.

I’ve always been an Elton fan, both of his music and personality. Let’s be honest he does genuinely fall into that increasingly over used category, national treasures.

However, on this occasion, I’m not at all sure about a 63-year-old pop star, still touring and living a highly publicised superstar lifestyle, arguably acquiring a newborn baby as if he were some sort of fashion accessory.

I hope I am wrong and that the happy couple can provide Zachary Jackson Levon with the start in life that he deserves.

Elton, formerly Reg Dwight, is also well-known, at least in Nottingham, as the nephew of Roy Dwight who scored for Forest in their 1959 FA Cup victory over Luton Town.

Elton’s uncle opened the scoring after 10 minutes. However with 33 minutes gone, and  Forest winning 2-0, Dwight was carried off the Wembley pitch after breaking his leg in a tackle.

These were the days before substitutes were allowed but Forest held on, winning the match 2-1, to become the only team reduced to 10 men by injury to lift the trophy.

Which brings me nicely to last night and the current Forest team who presented their fans with, the best possible late Christmas present, a beautifully gift wrapped 5-2 victory over local rivals Derby County.

The rivalry between the two clubs is as intense as any in the country. Both have seen better days but currently share aspirations of returning to the Premiership.

How often do former players return to haunt their old clubs? Last night was no exception. Marcus Tudgay and Robbie Earnshaw both picked up a brace for the Tricky Trees and Kris Commons withstood a torrent of boos to slot home one of his trademark free kicks for the Rams.    

The following is purloined from the http://www.thisisderbyshire website and will be music to the ears of Forest fans everywhere:

Forest’s pace and attacking play combined with Derby’s wretched defending made it a nightmare night for the Rams.

It was the first time in more than 100 years Derby had conceded five goals to the Reds. The last time was in March 1904.

The Rams are leaking goals at an alarming rate. Seventeen have found their net in the last seven games.”

Happy New Year!

And so this was Christmas…
December 29, 2010

And so this was Christmas …

The festive season began with a blanket of snow and the mercury dipping as low as -12˚C over the Christmas weekend. There had been concerns that the weather might cause problems for those travelling to the Shire but thankfully not so.

During the last two days the Wintersmith has released his icy grip and overnight rain has all but erased the Christmas card backdrop against which the Yuletide festivities have been acted out.  

December 2010 may turn out to be the coldest since records began but comparisons with the long hard winters of ’46-’47 and ’62-’63 may have been a trifle premature – all will be revealed over the next few weeks.   

As always, I was pleased to find that Santa had left me a couple of books beneath the Christmas tree:

The Shadow of the Sun, by Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski, has been hailed the greatest modern work on Africa and a dazzling literary masterpiece. It contains the correspondent’s work covering a forty-year period, following his first visit to the Dark Continent in 1957, and was first published in English in 2001.

I have already dipped into it. The author has the easy style of an accomplished story-teller coupled with a reporter’s eye for detail.  His evocative writing will resonate with anybody who has spent time in Africa.            

For obvious reasons I was immediately drawn to the piece entitled A Lecture on Rwanda. In seventeen pages Kapuscinski manages to distil the historical complexities of the Rwandan crisis, leading up to and including the genocide, in an account that provides greater clarity than any I have previously read.     

Duncan Hamilton was a Nottingham sports journalist. Last Christmas I received his first book, Provided You Don’t Kiss Me: 20 Years with Brian Clough, an honest, sensitive and extremely personal biography of the great man.

This year I was delighted to get a copy of Hamilton’s authorised biography of another Nottinghamshire legend, and the world’s fastest bowler, Harold Larwood.

I’m already well into it and the author clearly deserved to pick up the 2009 William Hill Sports Book of the Year  award for his moving portrayal of the Nottinghamshire miner who later became synonymous with the controversial Bodyline bowling tactics used by England to nullify Donald Bradman and his Australian team mates in the 1932-3 Ashes series.  

England won the series 4-1 amidst a huge diplomatic row that threatened Anglo-Australian relations. Larwood, a working class national hero who had merely bowled in line with captain Douglas Jardine’s orders, was made the scapegoat. When requested,  by the MCC, to apologise he refused effectively bringing his international career to an end.

Ironically, Larwood later emigrated to Australia where he was welcomed, respected and held in high esteem for the rest of his days.         

I didn’t watch a great deal of TV over the holiday period but couldn’t miss the annual Christmas Day helping from the Royle Family. Unfortunately, as is so often the case with Christmas Specials, material that would have made a good thirty minute show was over stretched to fill an hour slot, compromising its overall quality.

Along with 10 million viewers nationwide, I also tuned in to the latest offering from Mat Lucas and David Walliams, Come Fly With Me. I found this spoof documentary, set in an airport, mildly amusing but probably less so than the antics portrayed in the Airport series about actual day-to-day life at Heathrow.

Lucas and Walliams have been criticised in the media for their use of racial stereotypes. The blacked up faces and accents were certainly a throw back to 1970’s comic offerings such as It Ain’t Half Hot Mum and Mind Your Language.  However I didn’t consider the humour racist, simply a little dated, and I certainly don’t think it warrants a six part series.   

Another Christmas TV highlight had to be the business minister, Vince Cable, temporarily putting his and the coalition government’s problems to one side for a moment, and taking time out to show some nifty footwork dancing a lively Foxtrot with  the lovely Erin Boag, in the Christmas celebrity edition of Strictly Come Dancing.  Well you have to get your priorities right!    

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I crawled out of bed on Boxing Day morning to catch the latter stages of the first day’s play in the 4th Ashes Test in Melbourne.  Australia had been dismissed for a meagre 98 and England were already fifty or so ahead, without loss, in their first innings.

I had been expecting a buoyant Australia, after their recent victory in Perth, to push England really hard for the rest of the series but they have fallen apart. England are now so firmly in the ascendancy again, barring an act of God, they should wrap up a four-day innings victory, and retain the Ashes, some time in the early hours of  tomorrow.   

Jonathon Trott seems to love playing the old enemy, having followed up his match winning century, on debut, at the Oval in 2009 with two more in this series. But, at the highest level, there are fine margins between success and failure.

Trott threw himself full length to avoid being run out, by Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting, when he had scored only 46 of his eventual 168 not out. Another wicket at that stage might have brought Australia right back into the game.

‘Punter’ of course, is having a nightmare series with the bat and is about to become the first ever Aussie captain to lead his side to three Ashes series defeats.

He has been a great player and competitor throughout his career and his current frustration is understandable but his behaviour towards the on field umpires, following an unsuccessful referral, was totally out of order. He was extremely lucky not to receive a ban from the next Test, in Sydney. But then again it’s quite likely to be his final game in the Baggy Green!

Finally, I would like to announce the arrival, at Orchard House, of Christmas Monkey.  He emerged from a seasonal package of PG tea bags  on Christmas morning  and we are now a two monkey family. 

A Monkey is not just for Christmas!

The Wintersmith takes grip in the Shire
December 20, 2010

The Wintersmith has well and truly taken a grip in the Shire, with an overnight temperature of minus 19˚C recorded in Pershore during the weekend.

Yesterday, as I trudged across the blanketed  fields down by the river, I half expected to catch sight of the Nac Mac Feegles,  with their  angry blue faces emerging from beneath the big snow, grumbling “Ach crivens!” and  “Oh waily, waily, waily!” .

All of which will mean absolutely nothing to you unless you are au fait with the wonderful Wee Free Men from Terry Pratchett’s stories of Discworld!

As I made my way via the footbridge over the frozen marina and eventually skated along the treacherous footpaths of Upton to pick up a few essential supplies from So Near so Spar, I couldn’t help wondering what my African friends would have made of it all.

I also admit to feeling just a little envious of my VSO Rwanda colleagues, who anytime soon will be setting off for their Christmas break on the spice island of Zanzibar. Even their 36 hour coach journey from Kigali to Dar es Salaam suddenly seems quite appealing!  

Early on Saturday morning I had risen early and watched as England’s bid to wrap up the Ashes, as an early Christmas present for a nation embarking on a winter of discontent, had been derailed down in Perth. It was bizarre watching the players toiling in temperatures of around 30˚C while snow flakes tumbled down outside the window.

It was never likely to happen for England at Perth, given England’s poor track at the WACA, and once a paper like the Guardian (who should have known better) began to indulge in premature gloating, having variously described the leading Aussie fast bowler as shocking, awful, mediocre and a malfunctioning liability, then he was virtually guaranteed to come back with a vengeance!

Mitchell Johnson, in that kind of form, and particularly on that wicket, is capable of dismantling any team in the world. His match winning performance has certainly lifted the Aussies and revitalised the series.

Although there is less between the teams than appeared to be the case in the first two Tests I’m still confident England can do enough at Melbourne and Sydney to retain the urn and I look forward to spending the early hours of Boxing Day morning watching, wrapped up in my dressing gown with a hot water bottle, watching the opening throws of the next instalment.   

On Saturday afternoon I had intended to make my first visit to the City Ground since the end of August but cried off due to the icy road conditions and forecasts of further snow.

The match survived the freezing conditions and Forest, playing their first game in three weeks, secured a comfortable 3-0 win over Crystal Palace, with new signing Marcus Tudgay scoring a brilliant debut goal, lobbing the keeper from 30 yards out. Let’s hope there will be more to come and, weather permitting, that the Tricky Trees can get their promotion push back on track over the Christmas and New Year period.

I did manage to catch the Cherry & Whites on Sky TV last night. Despite sub-zero temperatures at Kingsholm the  Amlin Cup game against La Rochelle went ahead, but Gloucester will wish it hadn’t. I’m still not quite sure how they contrived to lose a game (18-24) where they enjoyed 75% possession and territory.

Unfortunately their lack of precision at key moments lost them the game and  puts paid to any hopes of European success this season. 

It was also a game the players were desperate to win as a tribute to club owner and motor sports legend, Tom Walkinshaw, who sadly lost his battle with cancer last week.

All eyes will now be turning towards the eagerly awaited Boxing Day Aviva League clash with high-flying Northampton Saints. An ideal opportunity to bounce back in front of a sell-out crowd.   

Saturday was also Chris’s birthday. Like me she has reached that stage where she is less than enthusiastic about celebrating the annual reminder that she isn’t getting any younger.

 But she was somewhat cheered to find that she has the same birthday as Brad Pitt. I was more impressed that she shares the date with Christina Aguilera!

The 18th December also marked the 67th birthday of Rolling Stone, Keith Richard. Unfortunately time has not been too kind to the oldest rocker in town, who looks about 87, but then again he’s packed a bit in.

It was also a year to the day of two famous retirements; Sir Terry Wogan’s and mine, both of us having spent a lifetime in the entertainment business!   

The last year has absolutely flown by, particularly with spending five months in Africa, and that old cliché of the newly retired, “I don’t know how I found time to go to work,”  has certainly been true in my case.

Sherlock – a high functioning sociopath!
July 27, 2010

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective Sherlock Holmes and his companion biographer Dr John Watson first appeared in print in the 1887 edition of Beeton’s Christmas Annual.

Subsequent adventures drew popular acclaim and by 1891 a series of short stories and serialised novels regularly featured in The Strand Magazine. By the time the last of these appeared in 1927 the detective consultancy operating out of 221b Baker Street had become a national institution.

Through the stage adaptations, films and TV series that followed, Holmes and Watson have  proved to be the most enduring of literary characters. The Guinness World Records has listed Holmes as the “most portrayed movie character,” having been played by 75 different actors in over 211 films.  

The instantly recognisable image of Holmes as a pipe smoking sleuth clad in frock coat and deerstalker, peering through a magnifying glass, is taken from the original illustrations by Sidney Paget which accompanied the stories.     

In the 1940s Basil Rathbone’s monochromatic Hollywood performances famously drew on these and his portrayal of Holmes set the standard for those that followed, although I don’t recall ever seeing one of these films in its entirety.

When I was young my Mum used to work at the local Byron Cinema and received a weekly entitlement of complementary tickets. I consequently became a bit of a film buff at quite an early age.

My first encounter with Holmes and Watson was therefore through the big screen in Hound of the Baskervilles, a 1959 film in glorious Technicolor, with Peter Cushing taking the lead role.

However as far as I’m concerned the definitive Holmes, to date, was splendidly played by the late Jeremy Brett in the Granada TV series which originally ran for ten years from 1984 and even now is frequently repeated.    

More recently a 2009 film starring Robert Downey Junior received mixed reviews for its unconventional portrayal of the Victorian crime buster and his relationship with stalwart companion Watson, played by Jude Law, but I haven’t seen it and will therefore suspend judgment.   

Each of these actors has brought something different to their interpretation of this most celebrated of detectives but the setting has until now always remained as smoggy Victorian London with its attendant gas lights and hansom cabs.      

On Sunday night we were treated to something different, the first of a new three-part BBC series called Sherlock in which Conan Doyle’s characters inhabit present day London. The show has been created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, both well-known as writers for the highly successful Dr Who series.     

It might be argued that there was something of the Doctor in Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Sherlock; the world’s only consulting detective and a master of modern technology in solving crimes. 

The essential intellectual brilliance, logical reasoning, and aloofness of Conan Doyle’s original character remain but there is an added dynamism and urgency about 21st century Sherlock.

He is very much a man of our times. The three pipe problem has been replaced by the three (nicotine) patch problem, he advertises his services on a website and his favoured form of communication is the text message.   

The dialogue is slick and witty, as illustrated by Sherlock’s riposte to an antagonistic policeman, “I am not a psychopath I’m a high functioning sociopath!”        

Martin Freeman’s John Watson is also seemingly very contemporary, recently discharged as an army doctor  and returning wounded from a traumatic posting in Afghanistan, but amazingly this is exactly the background created for the character by Conan Doyle back in 1897!         

The first episode A Study in Pink was reviewed in the Guardian as being strong on characterisation but thin on plot. It was however quite clearly based on Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes novel A Study in Scarlet.

Much of that book is given over to providing background information about Holmes and Watson prior to their meeting through a mutual friend. Its title is derived from Holmes’ description to Watson of the murder investigation in which they are involved as his “study in scarlet”.

He explains, “There’s the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it.”          

A Study in Pink owes its title, more simply, to the colour of the dress worn by a murder victim and her missing matching suitcase!

However the murderer remains a London cabby (but this time not the hansom variety) with limited life expectancy due to an aortic aneurism. His modus operandi is also faithful to the original. He offers his victims a choice of two pills, a game of Russian roulette, one being harmless and the other poisoned!

I am usually rather a traditionalist when it comes to film and TV adaptations but I thought Sherlock was fresh and innovative whilst maintaining the spirit and integrity of the original.

I look forward to seeing the next two episodes and I suspect a further series featuring the dynamic duo from way down on Baker St.     

‘Hip’Politicians & the Grange Hill Academy?
July 21, 2010

So just what is it with politicians and references to pop culture? They never seem able to get it quite right and invariably finish up with egg on their faces or worse!

The latest in a long line of cringe worthy moments, of this type, came from PM David Cameron earlier this week. On meeting Liverpool born TV producer and screenwriter Phil Redmond, creator of cult ‘80s children’s TV series Grange Hill, DC tried to up his street cred by coming out  as a huge fan and naming ‘Gripper’ Stebson as one of his role models in life!

It might have been a joke DC (it’s hard to tell, you’re not a natural when it comes to stand up comedy are you?) but admitting to hero worshipping a bully and a racist is not too clever is it?

I doubt ‘Gripper’ would have voted Tory, more likely BNP!

But Cameron is not alone when it comes to this particular type of banana skin.

Remember back in 1997, when newly elected PM Tony Blair was quick to tell us he had been in a band called Ugly Rumours, whilst at Oxford, and then went on to embrace Brit Pop by inviting Noel Gallagher to a Number 10 reception and that stage-managed, cheesy photo opportunity?  It certainly wasn’t one of his better moments! 

Not to be out done, Gordon Brown, whilst Chancellor, tried to shake off his dour image by showing off  an eclectic taste in popular TV, and music. He claimed he was a big fan of X-factor and that the Arctic Monkeys featured on his  iPod, along side Cold Play, U2, (and this is where he slipped up) James Blunt!  

He then showed just how un-hip he really was with his famous, “The Arctic Monkeys really wake you up in the morning,” quote. It just didn’t seem right some how!

And then there was Lord Prezza, back in his Deputy PM days, attending the BRIT Awards and getting a bucket of icy water thrown over him for his pains.

Danbert Nobacon, of Chumbawamba, justified his anarchic actions by saying,

 “If John Prescott has the nerve to turn up at events like the BRIT Awards in a vain attempt to make Labour seem cool and trendy then he deserves all we can throw at him.”

Harking back to Grange Hill I wonder if, ‘born again Blairite’, Michael Gove would have considered the North London comprehensive school for academy status? It’s more likely they would have been in special measures I suppose, but then again it looks Gove is a Grange Hill old boy! (right: Gove, far right: Zammo)

‘Heroes’ and ‘Villains’
July 17, 2010

Definitions of a hero:

  1. A brave person
  2. A person noted for their courage or nobility of purpose especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life
  3. A person noted for special achievement in a particular field
  4. The main character in a drama or other literary work
  5. A celebrity

Definitions of a villain:

  1. A wicked or  evil person
  2. A mean, worthless character in a story or play
  3. A scoundrel
  4. An antagonist who has a negative effect on other people

The Facebook Fiasco!

I don’t agree with David Cameron’s political intervention, because you are never going to win in a situation like this. Firstly, you can’t control people’s opinions or take away their right to express them (not yet anyway!) and secondly, it only serves to draw attention to those misguided enough to have stated their support for Raoul Moat, as some kind of folk hero.      

Moat may have gained celebrity, in some quarters, as  an anti-hero but in actual fact he was a self pittying, wicked and evil villain.

He may also have been a victim whose cries for help went unheeded by the support services. That’s certainly the image being generated by edited extracts from his tapes which have been aired by the media. The verdict is still out on that one.

If there are heroes to come out of this whole sorry saga try PC Rathband who, in the line of public duty, happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, was shot in the face and has lost his sight. And what about Moat’s children, who he supposedly loved so much? They have not only lost a father but will have to grow up with the legacy of his murderous exploits.    

Graduate Tax

I’m rather undecided about Vince Cable’s graduate tax but it’s certainly worth exploring further. On the face of it, it seems not a bad idea for students but less good for certain universities. Like everything the devil will be in the detail.

However I agree totally with his views on reducing some university courses to two years, flexible part-time modular degrees and raising the status of vocational training. University is not right for everyone and the previous government were misguided in implying it should be an aspiration for at least 50% of all school leavers.

Of course, modular degrees through distance learning are nothing new. I earned a degree that way back in the late 1970s through, what in my opinion is one of the greatest legacies of any Labour government, the Open University.  

Back to Vince Cable, it was reassuring to hear that voice of calm reason once again. His talents are clearly being wasted and I’m sure he would have made a far more considered and compassionate chancellor than Cameron’s buddy, Osborne. However I do concede there would be logistical difficulties having a PM and chancellor from different parties.       

In pantomime terms, which are probably those best suited to the coalition government at the moment, Vince cuts a lonely heroic figure surrounded by celebrity seeking villains!

The Famous Five

I admit to being rather ambivalent about the over hyped and much publicised Take That reunion but, back in the mid ’90s, as  a father of twelve and thirteen year old girls I remember well the female hysteria that accompanied Robbie’s dramatic exit and the subsequent break up of the boy band.

Ostensibly this was a consequence of an apparent disagreement over how the band should develop and the type of music they should be producing but quickly escalated into a battle of giant egos. Robbie and Garry were the main antagonists, and portrayed as the villains of the piece.    

Robbie, a celebrity hero to many in his solo career, has enjoyed his time in the sun including an 80 million pound recording contract with EMI, and whilst hardly on the bread line, his current standing and sales have somewhat slipped. And of course he never really conquered America did he?

Meanwhile, since 2006 the reformed Take That quartet has enjoyed meteoric success, sales are soaring, and their record-breaking The Circus Live has taken the USA by storm. Their heroic celebrity status of yesteryear has well and truly been re-established.  

Old cynics, like me, will say Robbie has got much more to gain than the rest of the boys by hitching his star to the Take That wagon.

The new album and the subsequent tour will undoubtedly be the music industry stories of the year and I am pleased for their legion of loyal fans, mostly in their late 20’s and 30 some things now I guess!

Their type of music never did and still doesn’t do anything for me other than by association with my kids growing up.        

I hope those five boys from yesteryear have matured into men who genuinely have buried their differences and that there is more to this reunion than pound signs!

Once the album is out, I have my doubts they will make it through the tour. Rumour has it Robbie suffers stage fright! Could that be his get out of jail card if he needs it?

Watch with Mother…….
July 13, 2010

I bought the Times yesterday, principally to read the first extracts from Peter Mandelson’s  kiss and tell book, The Third Man, which is to be published later this week.

Interesting as Mandy’s revelations were, in terms of confirming what we really already knew, it was a couple of smaller, tucked away feature articles that caught my eye.

I found that one of my childhood heroes is now officially a pensioner and will be applying for his free bus pass shortly.

Andy Pandy, the boy in the striped pyjamas and his co habitants from the wicker picnic basket, Teddy and rag doll Looby Loo, first appeared in fuzzy black and white, on our TV screens 60 years ago in July 1950.   

Pre-school children in the 1950s weren’t spoilt for choice when it came to TV programmes. However I was fortunate and always remember having a TV set at a time when they still weren’t very common.

I recall my Granddad, who didn’t yet have a TV,  coming to our house in May 1959,  just before I was six, to watch Forest play (and beat 2-1) Luton in the FA Cup Final. I wasn’t really interested at the time!

Our telly was a Bush, its tiny screen almost lost in the huge highly polished wooden case which dominating one corner of the room.

I started school in 1958 so it must have been a year or so earlier that I got hooked on BBC’s innovative Watch with Mother programmes, a spin-off  from radio’s Listen with Mother.

Everyday there was an eagerly awaited 15 minute lunchtime slot dedicated to pre-school children. Of course this meant switching on the TV fifteen minutes before the scheduled start and allowing ample time to warm up.

I can remember the weekly schedule now, as if it were yesterday:

Monday:              Picture Book                      

Tuesday:              Andy Pandy

Wednesday:       Bill & Ben the Flowerpot Men

Thursday:            Rag, Tag & Bobtail

Friday:                  The Woodentops  

To be honest the week got off to a slow start. Picture Book was my least favourite and a tad boring, a bit too cerebral for me!

Andy Pandy was a favourite though – I loved the songs. It always started with Andy Pandy is  coming to play la, la la, la la, la and finished, after  the gang had climbed back into the basket, with Time to go home , time to go home, Andy is waving goodbye.

Bill & Ben the flowerpot men were brilliant. They lived in two large flowerpots at the bottom of a garden next to the potting shed and either side of Little Weeeeeeeeeed, who had a big smiley face, something between a sunflower and a giant daisy.

Bill and Ben had their own language, years before the Teletubbies were ever thought of, “Flobbalob, Flobbadob” etc.

When the man who looked after the garden went for his lunch the fun and games began. As a result some minor mishap would always occur. To make sure we children had been watching carefully the narrator asked us to guess ‘was it Bill or was it Ben?’  The culprit owned up, just before the gardeners footsteps could be heard coming back along the path, and the flowerpot men quickly climbed back into their pots to end the programme.

Rag, Tag & Bobtail were a hedgehog, a mouse and a Rabbit, I think, but not necessarily in that order. I don’t remember too much about them – perhaps they were a bit girlie!

I often used to miss the Woodentops, because Fridays always seemed to be quite a busy day. I think we were out and about shopping for the weekend, buying the Sunday joint and that sort of thing. I remember the star of the show was Spotty Dog with his unusual, walk.

In this day and age of digitally produced computer animation, such as the recently released Toy Story 3, these 1950s puppets with their thick strings so clearly seen on the screen, all seem so unsophisticated now, but that was all part of their charm.   

In recent years both Andy Pandy and the Flowerpot Men have reappeared in updated animated versions but, with my grumpy old man head firmly on, I think they are what they are, and of their time and shouldn’t be tampered with in that way!       

Next door to Andy Pandy I found another boyhood hero, Roy Rogers.

For boys, and some girls I guess, the 1950s were also all about Wild West heroes with, flashy wide brimmed cowboy hats, holsters, six shooters and lassoes.  

I was a big fan of the Roy Rogers Show. He was a real life cowboy, who strummed a guitar and sang Home on the Range type campfire songs with his wife Dale Evans.

Roy Rogers had a magnificent golden Palomino stallion, Trigger and a German shepherd, Bullet.  Trigger would rear up on his hind legs and could walk along on them. When Trigger died, Roy had his four-legged friend (who never lets you down) stuffed and displayed in his cowboy museum.

With Roy and Dale long gone and yesterday’s news, the museum has recently closed with  Christie’s in New York selling off the exhibits. Apparently they have been overwhelmed by the response from old fans hoping to bid for a memento of the singing cowboy.   

A Christie’s representative is quoted as saying of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans “they were the Brad and Angelina of their time”.

Trigger is expected to fetch between $100, 0000 and $200,000!  

I am the egg man…..I am the walrus goo goo g’joob!
July 10, 2010

I had been tempted to use: “I am the egg man…..” to head yesterday’s ‘Prezza’ posting but saved it for today: the 3rd annual Beatles Day.

This year it’s going global with cities around the world joining Liverpool in celebrating the legacy of the Beatles. Simultaneous events will be taking place in Hamburg, New York, Shanghai, Sydney and Moscow.    

The 10th July was chosen as it was the date of the group’s triumphant return to Liverpool from the States and the premiere of their Hard Day’s Night film in 1964. The Liverpool hotel of the same name will be staging a balcony concert with tribute band the Backbeat Beatles re-enacting the famous rooftop concert at the Abbey Road studios in 1969.  

All proceeds from today’s events go to the Beatles Day Foundation. Last year 20,000 mop-tops were worn and cheques amounting to £45,000 presented to the Imagine Appeal for Alder Hey Children’s Hospital and Liverpool Unites, by charity patron Ricky Tomlinson aka Jim Royle.

I count myself fortunate to have been a child of the 50’s and a teen of the 60’s, a period of huge social and cultural change.

The ‘four frenzied Little Lord Fauntleroys who are earning £5,000 per week’ (Donald Zec in the Daily Mirror September 10th 1963) were central to the popular music revolution of that time and arguably the most influential band of all time.

In 1963, as a 10-year-old at Hucknall, Spring Street Juniors, I was bowled over by the fab four and saved pocket money to buy my first ever piece of 12 inch vinyl, ‘Please Please Me’, in mono. It’s still up in the loft – a collector’s item!

Like Rob, the main character and owner of the Championship Vinyl  shop in Nick Hornby’s Hi-Fidelity, I’m a sucker for Top 5 lists of any description. Of course every Beatles fan will have their own favourite albums, album tracks and single releases, and committing myself in writing may prove not only contentious but embarrassing .       

Having spent a while thinking this through, it’s an almost impossible task because the Beatles’ back catalogue surpasses anything ever produced by any other artists, embracing a range of genres and jammed pack  full of ground breaking classics and more under stated hidden gems.  Anyway, without further pre-amble or any attempt to justify my selections – here goes:

Top 5 Albums:

  1. Abbey Road(1969)
  2. Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
  3. Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
  4. Rubber Soul (1965)
  5. Revolver (1966)

Top 5 Singles:

  1. Get Back (1969)
  2. Strawberry Fields Forever (1967)
  3. Hey Jude (1968)
  4. Lady Madonna (1968)
  5. All You Need is Love (1967)

 Top 5 Album tracks (not released as singles):

1. Here Comes the Sun (Abbey Road)

2. I am the Walrus (Magical Mystery Tour)

3. Penny Lane (Magical Mystery Tour)

4. Revolution (The Beatles – White Album)

5. Norwegian Wood (Rubber Soul)




‘Do you come from a land down under?’
July 8, 2010

Isn’t it funny how certain songs creep up on you, and then as Kylie famously sang, “I just can’t get you out of my head!”  

One that I’ve been plagued by lately was also born out of Australia; ‘Down Under’ by ‘80s band Men at Work.

I hadn’t heard it for ages until I went to watch the recent England v Australia ODI at Cardiff. As each Aussie batsman trudged from the pavilion out to the middle they were accompanied by MaW’s  unforgettable tune and lyrics which remained with me for several days after. All together now: 

“I come from a land down under
Where beer does flow and men chunder
can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover.”

Personally I would prefer to see them come out to bat with another  bit of Kylie: I should be so lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky ” –  but that’s another story!

As I was flicking through the paper yesterday, Men at Work were there again.  Apparently a judge has ruled that the well-known flute riff from ‘Down Under’, “where women glow and men plunder”, was indeed plundered from that other well-known 1930’s Aussie hit, “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree”.
The top or bottom is, the band have got to pay 5% of royalties to the publishing company that hold the copyright. So I guess the kookaburra had the last laugh!  

Any how,  the song stuck with me again. But later, as I was mowing the lawn, I got to thinking (as one does during this most tedious of jobs) what other, never to be forgotten, ‘classics’  have our Antipodean friends contributed to 20th and 21st Century pop culture? 

To be honest I’d set myself a difficult task. Having taken away Kylie’s Greatest Hits I was in the realms of, “Can you tell what it is yet?”, Rolf Harris (seen here showing off his didgeridoo) and, Sun Arise, Tie me Kangaroo down Sport, Jake the Peg (with the extra leg, diddle, diddle) etc. etc.

When I delved even deeper into the recesses I dredged up I Remember You (well only just actually) from ‘60s yodeller Frank Ifield. After that I admit to giving up.   

Having trimmed and edged the lawns to perfection, I took the last resort, Wikipedia, where I found I’d underestimated the musical talent from down below – well just a little bit! The top 4 Australian recording artists of all time are as follows:        

The Bee Gees (1958-2003) top the list with an estimated 220 million in record sales. Well I guess the UK and the USA  both might argue the toss here and lay claim to them – but no worries the Aussies are welcome!   

In second place AC/DC, (1973-present), with 200 million sales from the heavy metal rockers, but more problems here too. All the group members are Scottish or English, except one, and they perform out of the States, but are classified as an Aussie band, having originally formed in Sydney.

AC/DC  don’t do ‘catchy tunes’ of course, but their 1980 album Back in Black has sold 49 million copies world-wide. This makes it the highest selling album ever for any band and 2nd only to Wacko Jacko’s Thriller in the all time best-selling albums list!     

Olivia Newton-John (1966-present). 100 million sales for the bronze medallist and just when I thought I’d found a bona fide Aussie, well actually no! 

O N-J was  born in Cambridge to a Welsh father and German mother. Her Dad was an MI5 officer on the Enigma project at Bletchley Park and, apparently, the officer who accompanied Rudolph Hess into custody during World War II!   

Having emigrated to Aus in 1954, aged six, she went on to carve out a pop career with largely country-style music until 1978 and Grease.

As a 29-year-old playing high school senior Sandy, along side John Travolta’s Danny, her career really took off and she became only the 2nd female artist ever to have 2 top 5 singles simultaneously, Hopelessly Devoted to You and Summer Night, both taken from the Grease soundtrack.    

Kylie Minogue (1987-) with 60 million sales comes in a surprising 4th but fair dinkum mate, we’ve found an out-and-out Aussie at last. Kylie (seen here starring as Little Red Riding Hood!) first achieved recognition as Charlene in the TV soap Neighbours before chugging her way to number 1 in the charts with the Locomotion (1987).

Having reinvented herself and relaunched her career several times since, she is of course a genuine Australian national treasure.   

All of that ‘trivia’ because I couldn’t get some tune out of my head, while mowing the lawn. Incidentally in this morning’s Sky News review of the papers a Daily Mail article was flagged up, which claims, the way to a woman’s heart is no longer through chocolates and flowers but the rather less romantic avenue of vacuuming and ironing!      

So I’d better go and do battle with the Dyson then. Another tedious chore – I wonder what earth shattering questions I can resolve today?

Back to the Future! Will it be Orange?
July 6, 2010

It’s 25 years since ‘Doc’, Dr Emmett Brown, built his DeLorean time machine and as he said to Marty McFly at the time, “The way I see it, if you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?”   

Yesterday the internet was alive with reports that we had reached the first target date, July 5th 2010, set by Doc in the first Back to the Future movie. It was even backed up with what appeared to be a screenshot of the DeLorean time control panel, taken from the film.

Unfortunately it all turned out to be a hoax and we will have to wait another 5 years to celebrate what is now being called ‘Future Day’. That will be on October 21st 2015, which is where the main characters find themselves when Back to the Future 2 opens. Pencil it in your diary now!         

I wonder what Doc and Marty would have made of the following news stories from July 5th 2010?

‘A Miserable Little Compromise’

Following yesterday’s grand announcement of the electoral reform referendum, Jack Straw rained on Cleggy’s parade by reminding him that just a few short weeks ago, before the election, he had described the proposed AV voting system as ‘a miserable little compromise’. What, Jack the giant slayer asked, had changed his mind? MPs joined in the pantomime by chorusing the answer, ‘POWER!’    

The Times projected that, if the last election had been run according to the AV system, the Lib Dems would have gained 22 seats and Labour 4 with the Tories down by 26. This is why DC is insisting on including constituency changes as part of the package, as it is expected they would off-set the AV effect.    

Ronaldo’s Little Dribbler!

Now we know why Real Madrid  galactica Cristiano Ronaldo was off his game for Portugal at the World Cup. He’s just become a Dad! The Portugal national daily, Diaro de Noticias, has announced that Ronaldo will have ‘exclusive guardianship’ of the child who was apparently conceived through surrogacy, in San Diego, and will be named after his father.

I wonder if Ronaldo junior will dribble as well as Dad!    


Stig is top of the Dump!

BBC Worldwide have announced that ‘Top Gear’, presented by Clarkson, Hammond, May and the mystery racing driver Stig has generated more revenue than any other show. This amounts to around £30 million and includes proceeds from  selling the series to foreign broadcasters, an international live tour and a whole range of merchandise including Top Gear Scalextric!   

Perhaps the Stig could road test Doc’s DeLorean, through time and space, in a Back to the Future Top Gear special!  

Back to the Future Education ?

I’m not sure what Doc and Marty would make of education secretary Michael Gove’s announcement that he has scrapped Labour’s Building Schools for the Future programme, axing at a single stroke 715 planned rebuilds and refurbishments. Labour might have dug a ‘black hole’ but at least their investment in schools and hospitals helped improve public services, whilst creating jobs and property assets.

Gove, seen above struggling with some big words, has also announced a review of  A levels. This would seem to be a good call.  For too long our public examination system has been kicked around like  a political football. Time and again hard-working students achieving ‘A’ grades have had the wind taken out of their sails, caught between successive governments maintaining standards have gone up whilst top universities and employers claim they have dropped.

I agree it is high time A levels were returned to their ‘gold standard’ status and a full review involving secondary schools, universities and employers needs to be carried out. But I have an uneasy feeling that everything will be tailored to the  needs of Oxbridge, and the already advantaged pupils from their independent ‘feeder schools’.  

I would add I’m not anti Oxbridge. One of my daughters is a Cambridge graduate but she did get there via our local comprehensive school!

Blazing Saddles        

I profess to knowing very little about cycling but I do love the three-week soap-opera which crosses our screens every July, Le Tour! It’s only the third stage today and they haven’t actually reached France, yet the controversy, complaints and protests have already started.

The usual question marks around le dopage, particularly with regard to seven times winner Lance Armstrong, were raised before the event pushed off, in Rotterdam, with the prologue time trial on Saturday. This has been swiftly followed by a series of calamitous crashes in stages one and two, with our very own Mark Cavendish cast as villain of the piece after Sunday’s pile-up. Belgian TV called him the ‘assassin’ whilst the French paper L’Equipe labelled him a ‘pyromaniac’.

I’ve heard of ‘Blazing Saddles’ but that’s going a bit far!   

Will the Future be Orange? 

Could it also be back to the future for Dutch football team?  Holland are forever revered for the total football philosophy that took them to successive World Cup Finals in 1974 and 1978. But everyone’s favourites lost on both occasions, even with the sublime skills of Johan Cruyff and co on display. Will the current crop of talented, but more prosaic, players put the record straight – will the future World Champions be wearing orange? We’ll have a better idea after tonight’s semi final against ‘dark horses’ Uruguay.