28 March 2009

"I told you to lay off the beans, you whore!"

With the news that the surviving members of Monty Python's Flying Circus are again to reunite to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the show later this year, I give you, lazily and without shame, my favourite Python sketch:

And if you've never seen John Cleese's phenomenal eulogy to Graham Chapman, here you are:

That's only the opening gambit. The full, brilliant, tribute from Cleese can be found here. Considering how funny it is when you read it, I'm only sorry that footage of Cleese delivering the whole thing doesn't seem to be in existence. If you know otherwise, do pipe up...

27 March 2009

Queen and country

The last great bastion of old-style sexism, the monarchy, seems finally set to change its ways. And about time too.

I've always found it remarkable that while the world's do-gooders have correctly obtained equal rights for women in every other aspect of life, the ancient tradition of keeping out royal women by any possible means has never been discussed, never mind touched.

The Queen herself should be sympathetic to this. Not just because she's a woman, and not just because she's a royal. Or indeed not just because she is a royal woman. A tremendous monarch she has been, but she only got there because she didn't have a brother.

And because her uncle was a Nazi sympathiser, but that's another issue entirely...

If they introduced equality for blue-blooded ladies right now, it wouldn't change a lot. It would simply mean that if Charles popped it before his mum - and, given how long his maternal granny clung on for, this can't be ruled out - then his sister Anne would be next in line, rather than his brother Andrew.

Immediately, you're saying "No, it'd be William!" But no, William can't be King unless he directly succeeds Charles, in the same way that had Elizabeth done one prior to George's death in 1952, the four year old Charles wouldn't have become King - it would have been Margaret. Now that would have been interesting - a soak Queen obsessed with fags, tropical islands and Peter Sellers.

Can you imagine Princess Anne as Queen? I think it'd be rather fun. An Olympic athlete - albeit one who made the horse do all the work - becoming the richest and most theoretically powerful woman on earth. The only person to be both BBC Sports Personality of the Year and Queen. The only person who became Queen after getting banned from driving. The only person who became Queen after being touched up - in the spirit of team bonding, of course - by Emlyn Hughes.

If she did, she'd be above the law and be able to do 112mph whenever she liked.

It would also mean we'd have a royal consort who, unlike the current incumbent Prince Philip, could walk down the street without a single person (except Richard Kay and James Whitaker, which is easily remedied by simply avoiding streets that contain Richard Kay and James Whitaker) having the foggiest who he is. To have such power and riches and yet such anonymity would be ideal for Commander Tim Thingy. That's unless Anne doesn't think he's consort material and sacks him off in the same way she did Mark Phillips.

And it would also make - at least until Peter Phillips and his wife reproduce - Zara Phillips second in line to the throne and a former England rugby player - fart lighter extraordinaire - a potential Queen consort. Let's face it, if fate can get Mike Tindall that close to being an HRH then there's hope for us all.

This could be the just what the Royal family needs. Yes, the sexism is an issue that should be sorted but beyond that, it would inject some real fun into the monarchy too. Queen Zara and King Mike, anyone?

26 March 2009

Chin chin

The only thing that's new about binge drinking is the very expression itself.

Binge drinking. It's a very pejorative phrase, typical of an era where we are laden with soundbites and gimmicks and next to no action beyond the hand-wringing.

But aside from the expression, the practise of young teenagers getting bollocksed at the weekends while also trying to procure illicit alcohol from supermarkets and offies during the week was going on when I was that age. And when my parents were that age too.

Legally entitled teenagers are meanwhile being demonised by daring to be 18 and having a booze-up at the weekend, many of which will take place after a hard week of studying or working, despite what our media would have you believe about literally every person under 21 in this country being a sponging, boneidle scumbag.

Look, they may be doing some damage to themselves, but they're being young. I'm 36 soon and I learned a long time ago that rifling lager down my throat regularly was not doing me a great deal of good. To this day I find it hard to cope with hangovers. By the time this latest lot are in their mid-20s their fascination for copious quantities of alcohol will have dulled and they'll do it just as occasionally as the rest of us.

Of course there are people who ruin lives - their own and other people's - through heavy drinking, but these are in such a minority. Leave those who are committing no crime or damage by enjoying a pleasant drink or six to do exactly what they are entitled to. And this "holier than thou" attitude absolutely stinks - I wonder how many of these preaching hypocrites are teetotal?

Oh, and the reason Armenia has a better record than the UK for boozy teenagers, Mr Study Man On Big Commission, is because it is a poorer country and disposable income is substantially less than ours. Just be quiet, please. Go have a drink.

25 March 2009

"She used to be a diplomat, but now she's down the laundromat..."

Spandau Ballet are reforming. Fellow bloggers, club punters and football fans who are aware of my heritage and musical tastes expect me to be whooping with joy at this news. I'm actually rather nonplussed about it, as when you look at their back catalogue, it's remarkably characterless.

If I were them, I'd go on stage, do extended versions of all the songs on Journeys To Glory, chuck in Chant No.1 and Gold as an encore and then, if the crowd persuades them on a second time, do Through The Barricades for the mums. I'd leave the rest of Diamond, True, Parade and their later, even less relevant albums to one side.

As an 11 year old, I did like them a bit. But even then it was obvious that Duran Duran were far more charismatic, Culture Club far more controversial, Tears For Fears far more talented and Wham! far more exciting. Spandau may have been the New Romantic groundbreakers thanks to the Blitz gig, but they soon got left behind by the groups who, directly or otherwise, benefitted from their success.

Spandau ditched the cossack outfits and tablecloths and put on estate agent suits to embrace white soul (or blue-eyed soul). Duran Duran also ditched the futuristic image but crucially didn't ditch the music. Their second and third albums still utilised the technological knowhow and general musicality of Nick Rhodes. Spandau relied over-heavily on Gary Kemp's songwriting and general monopoly of the situation - songwriting which, incidentally, had become over-reliant on repeating first verses again and again.

The pop kids of 1984 made it plain what they thought when, in the Smash Hits poll, they put Seven And The Ragged Tiger ahead of Parade as the album of the year, even though (as Gary Kemp pointed out) the Duran Duran album had come out the year before. (I voted for Human's Lib, which came fourth).

Duran Duran were now, of course, enormous in America. With the Thompson Twins and Tears For Fears, they were setting up the second so-called British Invasion. Aside from True, Spandau Ballet flopped in the States. They were already dated.

Beyond all career analysis, however, perhaps the proof of their quick irrelevance came when my mum declared she really liked their new single (it was I'll Fly For You, a dirge). Meanwhile, Duran Duran and other contemporaries she still regarded as a 'noise'.

Spandau were barely getting Top 10 entries at all, whereas again their contemporaries were still getting chart entries beyond the Top 10 threshold. As far back as 1982, supposedly a halcyon time, Spandau records were reaching No.30 and even No.49 in the charts (Paint Me Down and She Loved Like Diamond) which would never have happened to Duran Duran. Two of the four singles from Parade diappeared after just one week of climbing outside the Top 20. By the time that album's course had run, Spandau Ballet were spent as a force.

There is no way Gary Kemp could have written Save A Prayer, or Victims, or Head Over Heels, or even I'm Your Man. When they returned in 1986, they had Fight For Ourselves as a comeback single, which was far catchier than the paradoxically soulless Parade and yet still lacked a wow factor. Through The Barricades did get them back into the Top 10 and is still a quite poignant record (and the key and tempo change at "Oh, turn around and I'll be there..." is actually really powerful) but it was a last gasp. How Many Lies was the last Top 40 single, which Wayne Hussey reviewed with "the only lie is that Spandau Ballet make good records". Be Free With Your Love was as turgid a record as they ever made when they half-arsedly had a final go in 1989, missing out on the Top 40 in exactly the same week that Tears For Fears also came back after years away and shot straight into the Top 10.

Beyond all this, once the early clobber had been chucked out, Spandau just didn't have anything to cling on to, image-wise. Each time Nick Rhodes was photographed, his hair was a different colour. Tom Bailey's ponytail was extraordinary. Phil Oakey had his horsetail and two disinterested girly companions. Tears For Fears had the sneer and the smile. There is just simply nothing memorable about Spandau, nothing that sticks in your mind's eye the moment you think of them. Yes, they were almost totally naked in the video for Paint Me Down, but as stated, the song only got to No.30 so nobody ever showed it...

Let's be honest - they're reforming because they all need the money. Even Martin Kemp's television career has stalled substantially enough to make him ponder picking up his bass again. I do wonder, however, just how many people will really want to go see them.

As I said, pre-1982 and Journeys To Glory would be fine. Try this, which I still really like. Be careful of the beard and the string vest, mind.

24 March 2009

On the Street where they live

Time for some more random thoughts about the sacred cow that is Coronation Street...

1 - How come Joe is already behind with the kitchen installations? Three weeks ago he shook hands on the deal from within a desolate warehouse that only contained dust. Exactly how quick are we expected to believe his new employers are?

2 - Has that girl who plays Natasha the hairdresser been shown archive of Shelley Unwin and told: "That's who you need to become"? The character similarities are striking. And she is very good.

3 - How does that lad who plays young Simon manage to out-act everyone else he appears with?

4 - Where's Jack?

5 - Why can't I stop humming Consider Yourself every time Joe appears on screen?

6 - Why exactly has Uncle Umed turned up? Are they pining for Vikram's dad but couldn't get him? Same shtick - business advice in the shop, lusting after the elder women in the pub.

7 - How come Maria looks slightly less pregnant every time we see her?

8 - Where are all the cars kept? Ken, Maria and Ashley all have cars but they never drive them anywhere and yet, even though they have no garages, they're never on the street.

9 - Is Audrey's request for her money back from Bill going to turn into a rather crowbarred 'credit crunch' story?

10 - Would that Underworld client have so confidently said he was going to "see United stuff Villa" if he'd known the last two results?

23 March 2009

In the street and on a grave

This man is called Tony McNulty. He should have been the lead story on all the news channels yesterday. But he wasn't.

I was in a hotel room on Saturday night after the club gig, as I was off to Wigan for football the next day. Upon waking, cursing how little sleep I always get at weekends, I went down for a quick breakfast. Upon returning to the room, flicked on the telly and was faced with the news of Jade Goody's death.

Now, I promised myself I wouldn't mention this woman, despite being a passing Big Brother fan. But watching the BBC News channel for the next hour brought out all available emotions in me - with the exception of any misplaced grief, of course. I watched Big Brother 3, the programme which made her imbecility into some kind of national sport for a while.

BBC News led on the story. They did a full-scale obituary, a live report from some poor bloke stood outside her house in a black tie (actually, he may not have had a black tie but it really wouldn't have surprised me), and then studio guests including the main man from Cancer Research UK and then, lo and behold, John McCririck.

This took us to 10.25am. Sunday morning news viewers had 25 minutes on Jade Goody. It makes you proud, doesn't it?

Then we got the weather, more headlines (lead story: Jade Goody) and then three more stories were chucked away in ten minutes - including that of another Government minister, the chap in the photo, accused of misusing the expenses system to claim cash on a house he didn't pay out for.

So, let's get this straight - the national broadcaster, funded by the public, prefers to go mental over the death of a young nonentity while giving the alleged indiscretions of McNulty - funded by the public - pretty much a free run.

This is an outrage.

I don't wish to trample on Jade Goody's grave. It's awful when anyone so young succumbs to tragedy, especially as she leaves behind two sons who are going to grow up to learn just how despised and scorned their mother was.

But her death was not news beyond the two minutes of sombre "and finally..." style bulletin-ending that Leonard Parkin used to do so well whenever a famous person (and one who'd actually achieved something - Roger Tonge, John Le Mesurier) had passed away.

I don't have the argumentative clout to claim there is left-wing bias going on here, though at the same time I can't help but believe that had a Conservative politician been similarly caught in the act while Jade was getting the last rites, he'd have got more coverage and analysis and maybe McCririck would have had to wait.

I suspect Nicholas Owen, a fine news broadcaster, was seething underneath at some of the dross he was being forced to say or introduce.

The other thing that strikes me is the identity of those who have chosen to pay tribute. Gordon Brown? Bloody hell, the man called her Jane last time he was forced to pretend to know of her existence. David Cameron probably felt obliged to say something because of his own recent bereavement. Notably however, not a single person who shared the house with her in 2002 has said a word.

This might be because none of them were asked, as Jade's celebrity had ludicrously gone so far beyond saying "chipstick" and "minging" a lot while manually pleasuring a trainee Birmingham solicitor under the bedclothes that maybe the hacks felt it was no longer relevant. Alternatively, it may be that nobody could remember who they were, although certainly Kate Lawler (who was the winner, not Jade) has maintained a certain degree of public profile thanks to prejudiced footballers and Ann Summers. A third explanation would be that none of them had anything nice to say about her and so politely refused.

It'd be interesting to see how many, if any at all, turn up for the funeral.

No, actually, of course it wouldn't.

Although when I look back at that Big Brother, at least we can remind ourselves that it used to be good, when people entered the house without a prepared "act" or political axe to grind. Jade was the dim one.

Yes, of course awareness of cervical cancer and the dangers thereof has increased, and that is a tremendous thing. But the way this one relevant, worthwhile issue has been almost wholly sidelined by the slavering need to somehow commemorate the demise of a woman who achieved nothing in her life and whose company we would not have craved even for a moment is an indication of how utterly thick our national media believes we are.