18 December 2009

"There were people who expressed doubt about another DJ on a news and sport station - including me."

Yes, it was Sir Terry's last day today. But it was also Simon's. And while he, unlike Terry, will still be on the airwaves each day in the new year, he'll still be missed.

17 December 2009

"A man under cover but you tore me apart..."

Yes, yes, it's Last Christmas by Wham!, the biggest selling single of the 1980s which didn't go to number one in the charts.

Now look, I don't mind this song but at the same time I can't say I'd be devastated if I barely heard it at Christmas ever again. For all that, I'm mentioning it now because the current George Michael solo effort for Christmas is so dire.

Last Christmas is a cynical bit of work by George, in that he has written a rather basic lovelorn tale but manacled Christmas rather crudely into it in order to guarantee it a niche every year. Had it been Last Summer, for example, or Last September, the song wouldn't have been guaranteed any airplay at all once it had left the charts, never mind summer or September airplay, but any semi-passable Christmas song, irrespective of the tenuous links to the festive season within it, is dug out by radio stations and shops everywhere when December comes round.

The thing I do like is the video, and what it proves beyond all doubt is that Andrew Ridgeley is a shit best friend. He's now clearly enjoying what dear Charles would call "night-time adventure" with George's ex but somehow the two bessies have found themselves at the same alpine Christmas do and Andrew is happy to let discretion go hang, ignoring his chum's feelings and doing lots of necking with his squeeze before George's very eyes.

The first glimpse of the past comes when George is helping to decorate the Christmas tree as the party is prepared (Shirlie Holliman and her awesome hair leading the table-setting team in the foreground) and his ex is also charged with adding trinkets to the tree. George drops some tinsel, stoops to catch it and their eyes meet. If looks could kill...

The rather tired flashback subsequently explains all, as George and the ex have the least compelling running race in the fresh snow, with George stumbling unconvincingly. The connection to the present is established courtesy of a rather cheap looking brooch that was handed over as a gift and, of course, the unfeeling ex is now wearing it while Andrew bites chunks from her neck. George must have been a real git for them both to treat him like this.

Still, it's soon forgotten as we return to the present and everyone leaps into a cable car to go ski-ing. And, well, that's about it. Martin Kemp is in the video, of course, as Shirlie's boyfriend in 1984 who remains happily married to her to this day. I'm assuming the rest are hired actors and I don't recognise anyone.

This sold more than a million copies for Christmas 1984 and won by a mile the battle most folk were expecting - that of Wham! versus Frankie Goes To Hollywood, by a mile the year's two prime acts, for the Christmas number one. Well, almost so, except Bob Geldof stuck his oar in and so a million-selling number two single was instead cut as Band Aid - featuring George singing with his eyes closed anyway - took hold of the festive charts.

The best thing about Last Christmas is actually the equal billing of the flip side, again a shrewd bit of work as it guaranteed the single's continued presence on the radio after Boxing Day. Everything She Wants remains, very simply, the best song George Michael wrote during his Wham! days and, frankly, it's also better than a considerable chunk of self-help stuff he has written since he first went solo. Could have done without the screaming, but go on, fill your (fur-lined) boots...

15 December 2009

"They should have just written Beckinsale's part out..."

This was a pleasant bonus from last night's TV Cream Christmas shebang - a photograph with Reginald D Hunter, who happened to be in the same drinking boudoir as us.

Nights at the Phoenix Arts Bar in London with the Cream staffers are always a giggle, and the Christmas gathering brings out the non-locals like me. I was badly/effortlessly influenced by our pal Ian, who came down from Cheshire for the bash and promptly took over the unofficial but crucial post of best drinker within our group. I'm sure cardigan-clad Phil, author of a fine book about reading on the lavatory, is relieved (so to speak) to relinquish it after all this time. He needs to keep a clear head as he has an important assignment about Butterflies (as in Wendy Craig, shit cooking and wannabe lotharios in the park with discreet chauffeurs, as opposed to lepidoptery or nervousness in the stomach area) to upload to his blog before Christmas.

So we settled into our seats with ale and anecdotes while Louis gritted his teeth through another unoriginal observation about his likeness to 1975-stylee Graeme Garden and handed out signed copies of a book he wrote five years ago, drawn from a carrier bag. If you saw the British Comedy Awards at the weekend, this was sort of Harry Hill in reverse, really. Also a recipient of flattering lookalike comments was the marvellous Roman Empress, whose smart buzzcut and denim skirt convinced me that she should go blonde and start a new career as a Yazz tribute act. I am, however, unaware as to whether Yasmin herself has the Empress's remarkable capacity for Red Stripe.

The new job I start on January 4th received a surprising amount of attention, though this mainly consisted of Five Centres and others coming up with show features based on weak puns. Which, to be fair, is how the best radio mechanics are often thought up anyway. The alleged "highlight" of this Kronenbourg-aided brainstorming session was a feature showcasing the best looking women from my beloved home city and calling it "Hull's Belles". You see what these finest of media minds have done there? The fact that a) such a visual feature is not exactly compatible with radio, and b) the new show is not in Hull, did not discourage them from declaring the idea a surefire winner and toasting their creativity. I'll forward it to Paul Foster at Viking and see how quickly he deletes the email.

The next brainstorm involved everyone, as a debate began on the best comedy programmes that have never, to our collective knowledge, been committed to DVD. From initially sensible suggestions like Dear John and The Mary Whitehouse Experience, we soon veered into the less fondly remembered vault of laughmakers and the likes of Miss Jones And Son, Men Of The World and, brilliantly, Full House were thrown into the cauldron. The latter's suggestion prompted a ten minute collective rant about why Chistopher Strauli should have stayed away from the Rising Damp movie and then how a fresh-faced, youthful Steve Steen managed a full crediting in the Porridge film ("Belt up Atkinson you noisy scroate!") even though his character, Wellings, never said a damned word, although Fletcher did mention his name when reading the football team out to Grouty (which, by the way, appears to have 13 players in it before he gets to the substitutes. But anyway...).

Less hardy sitcoms like A Prince Among Men and Fresh Fields were also mentioned, although I seriously doubt that even society's ironic minority would exchange real money for a DVD of Julia McKenzie struggling with a cordless phone while Ann Beach hams up her annoying neighbour routine. The discussion ended with a welcome and impromptu humming of the theme tune to Three Up Two Down.

I stayed in a townhouse hotel in Bayswater, booked via lastminute.com for just 39 quid, half of what you'd expect to pay if you went to the Travelodge website and tapped in 'London'. Cheap, cheerless and complete with that must-have for all slightly seedy hotel rooms - a shower which produces only completely scalding water, irrespective of what you do with the taps. The "continental breakfast" was bread and jam. I don't think I've ever seen kippers on a continental breakfast menu in my life, despite what Fawlty Towers taught me. But yes, it was very cheap and you don't get what you don't pay for as a consequence. Devoid of sleep and entirely hungover, I ate two jammy breadrolls as a token gesture and then headed for the fresh air and the underground journey to Kings Cross. The new job will, assuming it's a success, preclude me from further Phoenix visits for the foreseeable future, so last night we made sure it was as worthwhile as possible. And so it came to pass.

I'm now away to read the book that Louis handed over. No, really. And here's how he signed it to me...

He is a gent. Who looks like Graeme Garden.