15 March 2008

Ten things to do prior to purchasing/adopting a Basset hound

Courtesy of the latest pamphlet from Basset Hound Welfare:-

1 - Go to doctor for check-up on heart, blood pressure and mental state

2 - Enrol at keep-fit class (to enable you to run for miles chasing the dog)

3 - Visit all close neighbours to see if they object to barking and howling

4 - Practise for hours dragging a sandbag on a lead (to enable your arms to get used to dragging a stubborn dog around with you)

5 - Practise shouting in the middle of a field, as Bassets all seem to be deaf

6 - Check fences are secure, at least six feet high, and preferably set in at least two feet of concrete to prevent escapes

7 - Check carpets have no loose corners, and remove the three-piece suite from the lounge until your Basset is at least three years old

8 - Purchase a baby gate for the stairs

9 - Put safety locks on fridge, bins and cupboards

10 - Get in with a good orthopaedic surgeon for when work needs to be done on the arm that will ultimately become a lot longer than the other

I can vouch for all of these...

Also in the pamphlet, BHW say the flow of hounds into their care continues unabated with good homes harder than ever to find. Again, I can strongly recommend having a Basset if you are thinking of acquiring a dog. Welfare have representatives all around the country.

Have a picture of Ruby and Boris contemplating a cooling drink to melt you further. Maybe.

14 March 2008

"But when she leaves, I'm not so sure..."

In the absence of anything more insightful to blog about, have another random hour of music played on KCFM 99.8 today:-

Police "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da"
Jamie Scott & the Town "Standing In The Rain"
Gnarls Barkley "Run"
Queen "You're My Best Friend"
INXS "Never Tear Us Apart"
Strokes "Last Nite"
Beth Rowley "Oh My Life"
Diana Ross "Chain Reaction"
Blur "Beetlebum"
Rick Astley "Cry For Help"
Chairmen of the Board "Everything's Tuesday"
Girls Aloud "Can't Speak French"
Anita Baker "Sweet Love"

I expect you to have us as your online listening while sitting at your computer today. Go on, have a go...

12 March 2008

"You're a typical Gemini!"

Nicky Campbell's Into The Night programme on Radio 1 was fantastic. It was an essential part of my adolescence, and although the man is a consummate speech broadcaster on screen and on wireless today, I still harbour hopes he may one day return to music presenting.

I've never met Nicky, and I've often thought I'd like to. But he was - along with Gary King - my biggest influence (or rather, inspiration) when I developed my interest in getting into broadcasting as a career.

Into The Night was deliberately marketed as the 'intelligent' show on the immediately pre-Bannister version of Radio 1 (or One FM, as it was ineffectively called by nobody except the people who were paid to say it). Four evenings a week, 10pm until midnight, it featured an eclectic but accessible playlist, high-calibre guests, cut-above competitions and Nicky.

Each night would begin with those Jamaican-produced muzac jingles ("it's Tuesday night, BBC Radio 1 presents the man with the musical plan - it's Nicky Campbell!") with Nicholas Andrew Argyll offering an immediate witticism on the Classic Album documentary which had just preceded him. Then it was, ooh I don't know, something by the Rolling Stones, or the Sex Pistols, or Aztec Camera...

Nicky was wonderfully unslick, and like Steve Wright (though with infinitely more subtlety) didn't pander to DJ-isms. He kept forgetting/declining to back announce records but before the 10.30 news ("with Brian Deacon") he'd suddenly give you a big list of everything he'd played since the show started. Unless it was XTC or Del Amitri, in which case he'd articulately tell you why you should immediately buy all of their records several times over right away.

Which brings us to a crucial aspect of the Campbell persona - his out and out hatred of dance music. I remember once he played Kirsty MacColl's marvellous Walking Down Madison and saying afterwards that he and his producer (probably Phil Swern) had argued the toss about whether the record was suitable for their programme because, although lyrically it was poignant and it was Kirsty, after all, it was also a dance single, albeit at the accessible end. But he was prone to those faux-raps, supposedly improvised, on the odd dance song which did, by accident or nay, get on to the show. You found yourself waiting for him to say "have you noticed that all these dance records sound the same?" which he invariably did even when he wasn't playing one. Ace.

Presenters are always told not to criticise the music they play. But Nicky did as he saw fit, probably putting a studioload of backs up in the process. Aside from the dance singles, I also remember him playing an old Queen record and adding "I'm not a fan. Well, they're okay, but the most recent stuff has been really, really poor". Controversial stuff? Yes and no - the most recent stuff was The Miracle, which was unarguably Queen's weakest work in the 1980s.

The quizzes, ah yes. The Wednesday Word Game. As I recall, he gave a dictionary definition and the starting letter of the word in question, and the prize was an ever-increasing number of record tokens (see also Simon Mayo's Identik-Hit Quiz) until a correct answer came in. Then there was Number 9, drop-inned by a casino croupier shouting, erm, "Number 9! Number 9!" as Nicky asked for a caller to come on and take on the less arduous task of naming nine songs by a certain artist or group ("in 30 seconds, give me nine songs by ... Paul Young!"). At least once a week, a human version of the Guinness Book of Hit Singles would nonetheless exclaim: "Oooh, I've gone blank!" Nicky would then, "miraculously", guess their star sign...

The guests, many political. Tony Benn ("Billy Bragg would always come to our events to play") and Denis Skinner ("I don't appeal to upper class people, I know that!"). Chris Patten and Edward Heath, Paddy Ashdown and, eventually, the Prime Minister John Major ("I'm not a total stranger to Radio 1 - anyone who has an 18 year old daughter and a 16 year old son can't be"). But there were other memorable visitors, such as Cilla Black ("everybody hated Yoko"); that sex therapist who gamely dealt with callers' issues about penis size and the "desire to sneeze at the point of orgasm"; and the frequent and absolutely wonderful visits in his last years by Frankie Howerd, which essentially consisted of callers ringing up to do impressions of the comic veteran down the phone. Then there was Ian McKellen, whose spiel about Nicky being a "wonderful darling" was used as a sweeper on the show for months afterwards.

Three Through Eleven. This was the late night precursor to the Teasingly Topical Triple Tracker, which became a millstone round Nicky's neck when he shifted on to daytimes (and was mercilessly parodied by Mark and Lard afterwards). But in its original late night form, it was a listener choice, untopical, and just three songs with a theme, obvious or subtle, running through it. This is where my only contribution to the programme was made (though I tried for months on end to get on Number 9 without ever coming close) when I wrote a letter to Nicky, suggesting he played Mama Weer All Crazee Now, Mama Used To Say and Look Mama one evening at 11pm. He did, about a week later, and used it as an excuse to sing bits of the operatic aside of Bohemian Rhapsody due to the 'mama' connection. There is a cassette in a carrier bag somewhere in my garage which has that bit of prized audio thereon.

The Theme Nights. Just occasionally, the whole show would be musically themed. He did 70s Nights, 80s Nights (sarky comment about extra-marital relationships prior to playing Saving All My Love For You) and a lot of nights which were initialled (there was a QED Night, meaning every third record was by Queen, though for the life of me I can't remember who represented E and who D). He'd invite suggestions and respond to them.

That last point, however, was my favourite thing about Nicky Campbell. I loved the fact that a) he answered his own phones, and b) he did so even when the lines hadn't been 'opened' for any reason. As the sad case I was, I wrote to him and thanked him for this selfless gesture, among other things, when he announced he was leaving the network to care for his unwell wife. Some presenters on Radio 1 at that time (or any time) wouldn't have 'stooped so low' as to talk to their own punters and would even instruct their lackeys not to take calls if the lines weren't 'open'. I remember once winning a prize on a Radio 1 show (can't remember which) and when they didn't ring back as promised the next day (they said 9am, I waited until 5pm), I dialled 071 637 4343 and it rang, and rang, and rang... and yet somebody would have been sitting in that phone room, staring at the red TBU flashing at them but choosing or being told not to take the call. Obviously I should have looked up the reception number but, well, you just didn't...

Nicky's handovers with Bob Harris were always good fun at midnight. Somebody somewhere used to tape every single one of them and made a compilation which he then sought out both presenters to hand copies to. Nicky referred to this when he appeared on Bob's This Is Your Life. Nicky Horne was the main off-peak deputising jock at that time, frequently covering Campbell and Harris, and I remember one five-minute handover at midnight when the namesakes rabbited on about how much they hated being called Nick.

After his marital sabbatical, Nicky came back to do the afternoon and drive shows (might have been the other way round) and was still, along with Mayo, by some distance the most droll and worldly aware presenters on there, even though he now had to pretend to like records by MN8. Eventually, of course, he shifted across to Five Live where he remains the top-level presenter on the station.

There was a marked contrast to be had from Nicky's other job while hosting Into The Night. He was, of course, host of ITV's numbskull quiz Wheel Of Fortune and used to tell his listeners when he was going to be away filming ("Nicky Horne's here next week as I'm off to Scotland to spin the wheel"). I always used to wonder why he couldn't still host Into The Night from BBC Scotland's premises, given that filming would probably not be ongoing at 10pm. His other TV gig was that Central TV shouty thing, although I remember him guesting on Through The Keyhole ("is it James Whale?") not long after David Frost appeared on his programme. He was, of course, on the Top of the Pops roster, once appearing naked save for a strategically-placed guitar. Why he did this I cannot recollect.

Those of us who work in radio have almost certainly been inspired to do so by someone or something we heard on our wirelesses in our younger days. For me, Nicholas Andrew Argyll Campbell was a key player in my career choice. I'll never reach his standards or equal his professional reputation, and I'm never going to follow his lead and inspire someone from another generation into the job, but I'm content with that. I'm happy to recall the four nights a week when he was on, when I would laugh, be musically educated and just feel a bit better for listening. That's about the least a presenter should hope to achieve.

11 March 2008

Tig, you're it

Five-Centres (yes, him again) has passed the meme baton to me, bless him. The idea is you take the book you are currently reading, turn to page 123, skip the first three lines and then reproduce the next five on here for reasons unclear, though no doubt whoever came up with this wheeze had a cogent and useful motive for it.

Now my reading habits consist almost exclusively of football autobiographies, but as it so happens my bedside book is a proper novel right now (even though I have Neil Warnock, Bobby Charlton and Jimmy Armfield on the pile of unread books in my study). And, even if you haven't read it, you could certainly recognise it. This could even be close to intriguing...

"At this time of year, there would be another hour and a half of total darkness. He wanted to try standing up again. He had walked here, to the spot on the Wilshire Boulevard side where he had squeezed out of the ventilator. His left foot was so bad that he wanted to cry out. His thigh burned."

So, there you have it. Worth the wait, I'm sure you will agree. And, like F-C, I will try to inject some form of lukewarm sport into this by asking you to guess...

Looks like I'm tagging now. I'll nominate Louis Barfe, Phil Norman and Stephen Blake.

10 March 2008


I enjoy watching the Crufts highlights every year, despite Ben Fogle's existence and some of the technical incompetence ("this happened last year!" whined Clare Balding, thinking she was off air, when a mic in the arena initially failed to work) of the BBC.

When I let slip a year or two back to my football compadres that I'd been to Crufts twice, I got absolutely ripped to shreds. But I have. Four pedigree Basset hounds, bred by a top show hound breeder, equals involvement in dog shows. Bentley has been to Crufts twice, Boris once. Neither of them got anywhere - Basset hounds never do, sadly - and we decided that ferrying them round the country was too much for them, so we stopped. I haven't been for two years, but the Natural Blonde has been to all of the last five on Terriers & Hounds day at the NEC.

She didn't go this year. I couldn't because my work schedule means I only sleep on Sundays at the weekend and I would have been a zombie making that journey. So we contented ourselves with the BBC coverage, saved largely by the offscreen commentators and Matt Baker. If Richard Hammond and Philippa Forrester ever fancy a comeback...

Some people are snobbishly against dog shows, claiming it's a scene just for the rich, the pompous and for people who only want dogs for their own personal gain. Well, let me nip some things in their respective buds; you don't get rich with dogs, irrespective of their quality. The qualification shows round the country earn you peppercorn winnings if you happen to be lucky, and the veteran shower and his superb seven year old Giant Schnauzer who got best in show this year picked up the grand sum of £100.

The majority of owners and breeders adore their animals, all of them are still family pets and given that success is as much about quality handling as a quality dog, it's a testament to the love and trust which a dog gives back to its owner, which is just the most rewarding thing ever.

Breeders are professional and by definition in it for the money, but they are predominantly scrupulous about it. My Bassets came from a kennel in Lincolnshire, which doubled up as boarding kennels. I'm certain there are rogue breeders out there, of course they are, but the breeders who make a living from raising and selling on new litters do so responsibly and honestly.

Our Bassets were worth a lot of money when we bought them. They're worth zero in cash now, given that they're ageing, neutered and without a showing reputation. But owning a show dog is an expensive business which actual success in the ring does not repay. Once you've acquired the dog, there are the kennel fees, the veterinary fees, the food fees, the training fees, the accessory fees, the travelling... all for winning £100 at the World's Biggest Dog Show. Oh, and whatever sort of dog you own, don't buy stuff for him at Crufts. The goods on sale during the event are expensive beyond comprehension. It's as if Welcome Break or Moto had won the franchise.

The fellow who won with the Giant Schnauzer (which was our favourite in the final too) will get a few quid in time for the prestige that goes with the win, plus the inevitable Pedigree Chum advert. But then he'll probably retire his dog (who is seven, which is beyond peak for most show dogs) and start the whole process again.

I do have some canine aversions. Like most things, dog ownership is about taste, so the Toy dog section (except the Pug) means nothing to me at all. There was a Chihuahua in the final, and they just don't seem like dogs to me. Four of my cats are bigger than a Chihuahua. I've met a couple and know first hand what a vicious little sod they can be. I'm also not keen on the bred-to-menace types, like the Rottweiler.

I'm also uncomfortable watching the dancing dogs, which have become the traditional Crufts finale warm-up show. The same lady is on every year doing routines with her Border Collies which show amazing skill, obedience and patience, and a stunning dependence on his mistress by the dog, but I can't help but think that it is entirely unnecessary. Obedience is good, but something tells me this goes too far.

A better indication of the love and dedication that dogs are capable of comes from the Friends For Life section, which highlights dogs who are invaluable companions to a person who is physically, mentally or emotionally disadvantaged. It was won this year by a Hungarian Vizsla and her mistress, an eleven year old girl with cerebral palsy. Last year's winner was a lad in a wheelchair who burst into uncontrollable sobs when his name was announced.

To me, dogs need to be a good-to-big size, cute, awkward, protective, hard work, rewarding, loyal, cheeky and a little bit insane. I've got all of those things in my Bassets. If I were to choose a new breed of dog to own, I'd go for a St Bernard or a Newfoundland, a Whippet or a Bulldog, an Irish Setter or even a Pug. For all that though, my first recommendation to a potential dog owner is to find a loving mongrel at your local dogs' home.

So, the lads can rib me all they like. We'll always watch Crufts. It isn't financially rewarding if you're in it, but it is certainly emotionally rewarding if you're a dog person of any kind.