Sunday, April 26, 2015

Guessing it's a test....

Somebody will need a big pointer on election night.

Presumably there'll be an ice-rink in the piazza, with Rick Wakeman playing special Jean-Michel Jarre arrangements of Fire and Ice, as Torvill and Dean skate endlessly around Dimbleby.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Knowledge transfer

Former BBC DDG Mark Byford (incorrectly captioned below) is still keeping the Candle of Journalism alive, helping journalism students at Winchester University.

This brief interview indicates a prescience about the BBC's quest for "better", currently lighting up the documentary series W1A - and the emergence of a new coinage, "skilling", previously only thought to refer to 19th Century Scandinavian monetary units.


A little reminder this week of what the SNP might do with an enhanced mandate north of the border - at least one MSP has got his eyes on BBC Alba.

Michael Russell, member for Argyll and Bute told the Celtic Media Festival "Scotland’s renewed democracy, and the thirst for information and radical perspectives, creates a good chance of an even more successful repositioning for BBC Alba, if it chose to take it....A channel not only of language, but fully engaged with community and country."

Just saying...

St George's Day passed without the announcement of new Knights of the Garter. The country's highest and oldest order of chivalry is at least three short of its usual complement of twenty-four - but perhaps the Queen's political acumen came into play, during this General Election campaign.

Two former Prime Ministers, Blair and Brown, remain available for selection. Some thought a place might be found for former Tory party and BBC chairman Lord Patten. Maybe something will happen post-May 7 - still in time for the traditional dressing-up-in-Windsor shindig, in June. We might have also added to the list of former Prime Ministers.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Alright, mate

Now, with the formal resignation of executive producer Andy Wilman, we have the full set of the Not Quite Top Gear team in the pitlane waiting for offers.

Wilman conceived the current incarnation of the programme over a long lunch with Jeremy Clarkson in 2001 - complete with aircraft hangar and supercar obsessions. They were mates from Repton days - originally, the anonymous white-suited test driver was to be called The Gimp, but when the first appointee rightly rejected the honorific,Wilman and Clarkson lighted upon The Stig, a nickname given to new boarders at their school.

Andy was born in Glossop. His dad was in textiles, with a mill making tea towels and dish-cloths. Older brother Stephen was the family petrol head, racing bikes and winning titles at motocross. Andy failed his driving test three times.

At Repton, Jeremy brought his extensive Dinky collection, but by the sixth-form seemed to have convinced the teachers he needed a real car. "We used to go off in it to the girls' school. We had a laugh. We messed about. We weren't there." Andy wasn't expelled, but flunked his A-levels and went to London for re-sits. After a spell in MacDonalds, running a deli and flirting with the idea of a being an actor, he settled on Russian and American Studies at Keele.

Degree acquired, he bumped into Jeremy in London again, who was by now writing for local papers. Andy punted one at Auto Express - and they took it. He learned his trade on the job, and with the help of an occasional phone call to Clarkson, stayed with Auto Express for four years. Then the BBC approached him to be features editor for Top Gear magazine. In 1994, he joined the Top Gear programme proper - and appeared on camera in 35 episodes, mainly in unlamented spin-offs such as Top Gear Waterworld. Here's a feature in which he deploys his Keele degree.

Let's hope the next Wilman/Clarkson lunch is productive.

Mark Jones

Mark Jones, who ran the BBC Sound Archives for fifteen years, has died at the age of 67.

Blessed with a hugely well-stocked mind, plus a deep and constantly-growing fund of gossip (told either with a twinkling eye or iron certainty, depending on the recipient), he moved from archivist to programme-making in style, making most recently audio-books that tell the story of the First World War, D-Day and Radio 4 itself through BBC recordings. It would be nice to hear at least one of these 50-or-so programmes in the Jones Back Catalogue actually “on air” as a tribute to his research and writing skills.

His knowledge and love of the archive, and understanding of the rights minefield, were also pivotal in establishing the style and ambition of Radio 7, now Radio 4 Extra. He worked with Jonathan James-Moore, ex-head of Radio Comedy, to produce dummy schedules that shaped how the channel sounded from day one.

Like many, his route into the heart of the BBC was slightly oblique. Educated at Haberdashers’ Monmouth and Bristol University, he moved on to York, where he abandoned an M.Phil course after two years, slightly puncturing his ambition of an academic career in the emerging field of American Literature studies. How he turned the corner into a job in the BBC’s personnel department, looking at grading issues, probably ought to remain a mystery (though it remains an extra endearment to this writer).

He stayed three years in the world of job evaluation. He managed at least a couple of what BBC insiders call “trips” in the period. He spent a week on the streets of Lisbon with a news correspondent and film crew during the overthrow of Salazar, in order to determine the salary quotient appropriate to making difficult editorial decisions in dangerous circumstances. All jokes about being paid to watch other people work had been heard by the time he left the department.

At the sound archives, the activity was all about selection – these, we should remember, are the years before the arrival of the terabyte, and radio, even more than television, had to make hard choices about what was best kept. As the boss, he oversaw the computerization of the catalogue, and the move into digital recording.

Mark left the BBC in 1996 for his second career as a writer and producer. He taught at London University's Extra-Mural Department and at the City Literary Institute. In 1998 he won an SWPA Gold Award for “75 Years of the BBC”, a celebration of radio broadcasting. He wrote for the BBC History Magazine and provided all the recordings for the multi-award-winning audio series Eyewitness, a ten-part history of the Twentieth Century. He researched or wrote audiobooks and features on Victorian and Edwardian cricket, Dylan Thomas, Churchill, Alistair Cooke, the Titanic and the Battle of Britain.

As well as being a lifelong lover of radio, and an avid member of the MCC, Mark played cricket for the Bushmen, a team founded in World Service, and captained them in 1981. He also followed the fortunes of York City and Welsh rugby – a bit roller-coaster in recent years, as were Mark’s battles with illness. He smiled wryly and laughed through them all.

Vote often

At the HSBC annual general meeting, there was at least one call from the floor for non-executive director Rona Fairhead to resign. Another shareholder asked Rona to give HSBC Chairman Douglas Flint a job at the BBC - "in the fiction department".  Another said Rona's HSBC salary was "obscene", but Chairman Flint described her as "a fantastic servant".

Deputy Chair Simon Robertson said she'd done a very good job improving relations with US regulators, which had not been first-rate. (I wonder what she can do to improve her relations with Margaret Hodge and the PAC ?)

Nonetheless Rona was re-elected, for one more year, with the support of 96.6% of those voting.


There's lovely. There'll be dancing in the streets of Gerlan, Bethesda, this weekend, to celebrate local group 9Bach winning Album of the Year at the Radio 2 Folk Awards, for Tincian. The awards ceremony was held in Cardiff.

I'm confident this is the first time a record in Welsh has won.

First dance

There finally was a bit of a do to mark BBC Worldwide moving into Television Centre. Tony and Tim were the hosts for an event based round Strictly Come Dancing. Presumably early plans to theme around Top Gear, with drives around the Horseshoe Car Park in a reasonably-priced car, had to be dropped.

So there was dancing in Stage 6 Reception, not seen since the Newsnight Barn Dance While Waiting For Late Night Mini-Cabs Society was in its heyday. Natalie Lowe (re-signed for Strictly 2015) and Ian Waite (waiting for the Strictly It Takes Two call-up) fleckerled at the base of the new twirly-wirly staircase, and Bruce, Tessa and Claudia joined Tony and Tim to unveil a blue plaque. This will irritate the official blue plaque lot, and others who put up unofficial blue plaques around Television Centre in the past.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


In the endless search for a new saviour of Saturday night tv, the BBC's entertainment commissioner (and deputy director of television) Mark Linsey (Hills Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge and Leicester Polytechnic Performing Arts) is giving variety yet another go, this time hosted by John Bishop.

John's Lola Productions, which has a "first look" deal with BBC Worldwide, is recording at the Hackney Empire over four Wednesdays in May and June. This apparently should produce sufficient material for eight shows.

What's new ? The acts are apparently "hand-picked and curated" by John Bishop. This is possibly one of the first sightings of "curation" in this branch of showbiz, which will have Lew Grade and Billy Cotton chortling in their graves. It may also be code for "people you've never heard of..."

You will, of course, see John Bishop again, probably in another cheeky travelogue. Ain't life grand ?
  • An alternative answer for Saturday nights, post the General Election, might be Nigel Farage. His BBC1 interview with Evan Davis, recorded in the Michael Crick Institute, brought in 2.54m viewers (14% share) in the overnights - double the figures achieved by Ed Miliband and David Cameron in the same slot. 

Other people who read this.......