Monday, 22 June 2009

Radio Radio

Just a few quickies- the Bill Mitchell programme also got a nice review in The Stage and Television Today, was an iPlayer pick in the Telegraph and was featured on Radio 4's Pick of the Week (marvellous, incorruptible Pick of the Week). It makes me very happy to have Gillian Reynolds (radio critic of the Telegraph) praise something I've been involved in, I imagine working on a TV show that Nancy Bank-Smith enjoyed brings a similar warm glow.

I met Gillian Reynolds once, years ago in my TV curator incarnation, and she was great fun. We had a good old chin-wag about everything from Peter Hawkins (the then recently departed voice of British Childhood) to the legendary TSW opening night show, the full astonishing wonder of which I thought only nerdy gents of my age knew. She knows her stuff!

Tonight sees the beginning of my stint as stand-in presenter for Alex Riley in the Comedy Club slot on BBC Radio 7, this now runs to three weeks rather than two by the way. I've greatly enjoyed acting up for this, it's ten 'til midnight Monday to Friday and gets giddier as it goes on.

If you want to listen to all my links you're scary and I thank you. You'll need to either listen live or get savvy using realplayer links though (check out the Beebotron site if you need help) as the opening half hour doesn't go on iPlayer with my bits attached for arcane and dull reasons related to not wasting precious resources.

I'll be mainly watching The Wire.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Cat Fight

Bill Mitchell - The Man Who Wrestled Pumas... Probably went out on Radio 4 on Thursday and seems to have gone down quite well, you can catch it still on the iPlayer for the next 5 days. Use this link with realplayer if you're outside the UK. Yesterday it spent a little time as the most popular BBC radio factual show on there, which says something or other- possibly that people like factual shows but not so much the ones about big important world changing facts.

The show garnered quite a bit of publicity. There were a couple of nice trailers that were played out regularly, and I'm told promotion by Steve Wright on Radio 2. In print there was a little article in the Radio Times featuring Bill looking across the page towards the I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue article and preview pieces in The Guardian, Observer, Times and Telegraph. All were terrifyingly positive, bar The Times wishing as an aside that there could have been more archive in the show. Those of us involved wished that as well, with there being a couple of pieces it was frustrating not to be able to feature in the end.

Response seems to have been pretty positive too. Googling around, people on messageboards, Twitter and so on seems to reveal general enthusiasm and The Guardian ran a glowing review of the show on Friday.

Amazingly, the one question I've been dreading (bar where's your writers credit- answer, mainly right here- Radio 4 isn't obliged to offer them on these kind of shows) has only come up once, when a friend asked 'Wrestled pumas? In what sense wrestled pumas?'
Ah. Well, lovely title isn't it? In this sense...

Initially, the documentary was pitched as someone, possibly even me unless Radio 4 felt a star narrator was needed, learning about Bill.
To accompany my initial pitch I'd located an audio interview with him, a good obituary and a few CDs with some lovely DJ sound bytes and out-takes that we were sadly unable to clear for broadcast but best of all was a tantalising entry on Bill in an old book on advertising The Tuppenny Punch and Judy Show, under his photo the caption claimed-
"Once he wrestled pumas now he caresses words"

Because it was clear that Bill had told a number of tall and colourful tales about his life as he developed his hard man persona, this seemed a good hook. Was this true, or just Bill making extravagant claims?
One of the ideas was we'd ask interviewees if they knew anything about this. The result could be a montage telling us 'Definitely, in Madrid in 1962' or something, 'I've no idea', 'rings a vague bell', 'wouldn't be surprised' or 'no'. Except it didn't really work out that way, and once it was decided a proper celebrity narrator who'd known Bill was needed, the journey of discovery idea gave way to straight biography and I wrote the script to serve Bill's life story, the archive we knew we could use and the interviews producer Paul Hardy had put together. The cliffhanger of whether Bill had wrestled pumas or not was left, well not so much hanging as unraised beyond the title... I did suggest that we might retitle the show Bill Mitchell- the Man Who Didn't Have to Try... Too Hard but hang it all- 'Wrestled Pumas' that's brilliant isn't it?

If you do want a definite answer on whether Bill puma-wrestled or not, I can tell you that in the course of making the programme we came to firmly believe that he did.


Friday, 19 June 2009

Fallen through a time warp- it's a fragment of June

This looks like a draft of an entry embarked on and forgotten about in mid June, (while waiting for a bus I suspect). I think I repeat some of the things said here but I'm publishing it anyway (after my rediscovering it in August), in the interests of not chucking away a half thought through feeble joke, a couple of observations and a stray opinion. Enjoy.

I've been in TV's glamorous London the last two days, though I was mainly working in wireless's ugly London myself.

Blimey, for a boy fron the sticks London is glamorous. I took the 'wrong' train to Lewisham by mistake on Wednesday, what a good idea that was- tourist boom town London all on one line, Gherkin, Cutty Sark, Canary Wharf... it was like being in Cardiff with iconic cutaways. Fab.
It was a smashing pair of days, I stayed over with a lovely couple, briefly sitting on Nicola Bryant's old cushions I'm told (insert gag at will), and also met up with the famous Robert Davy from not in Coupling, a gestalt entity which makes me laugh so much I can't believe it hasn't had a fabulously entertaining wedding day for me to enjoy yet, each to their own.

While not being social this week I was mainly recording links for BBC Radio 7's Comedy Club, the only downer being having to chuck a lot of 'it's my last Wednesday' type links when I was offered a third fill in week presenting. I can handle those kind of rewrites.

In other rewrite news my Radio 4 play is now done and willl record soon. If it ends up any good at all then praise is definitely owed to producer Gary Brown for nurturing it, developing it and nudging it along on the way.

Oh and by the way, as someone who's spent a bit of time reading up on the various daft, ideologically suspect and ill-thought through bits of broadcasting legislation of the last half century I find myself very disappointed by the Digital Britain report. If ITV and Channel 4 can no wonder work as commercially funded public service organisations despite having massively diluted their public service remit I personally believe they should be allowed to go to the wall and have their popular properties sold on.
Unbelievably the BBC works... and better than most.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

An Unsatisfyingly Incomplete Pot Pourri of Teasers

I'm now into the final draft of my radio play, there may be some polishing after this, but beyond that, this is it- more later.

I have recently said 'yes' to writing a short story- more later.

There were two exciting and different trailers for the Bill Mitchell documentary on Radio 4 today (at midday and 6.30pm if you're interested)- more later.

I had an absolute hoot yesterday recording my first week of links for BBC Radio 7's Comedy Club (very different in tone from the Sunday Drama and Comedy Catch Up slot I did the other week which I feel struggled to get a handle on). I'll be hosting it 10 'til Midnight, Monday to Friday from 23rd of June to the 3rd of July- more later.

Deferred gratification was today decreed worse than obviously flagged subversion of form for comic effect- tough. Sue me.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

At a wireless near you from a week on Thursday...

BBC RADIO 4 Thursday 18 June 2009

Bill Mitchell – The Man Who Wrestled Pumas...Probably

Thursday 18 June
11.30am-12.00noon BBC RADIO 4

Miriam Margolyes profiles the life of the late Bill Mitchell, the gravelly baritone who informed people that the latest blockbusters would be "at cinemas near you from Sunday"; that a certain brand of lager was probably the best in the world; and that a type of aftershave was for men who didn't have to try too hard.
Born in Canada, Mitchell apparently developed his trademark voice either as a result of suffering mumps as a child or by falling from a tree and damaging his windpipe. He admitted that the heavy drinking and smoking which began in his teens helped preserve his voice and drove his excessive lifestyle.
Mitchell's voiceover career began in the late Sixties with a recommendation by Patrick Allen, the then undisputed voiceover king, and a Pan Am advert showcasing Mitchell's Orson Welles impression. This impression ultimately mutated into his trademark sound.
Mitchell died in August 1997 but his name remains ranked as one of the greats within the advertising industry, with his voice still impersonated by other artists today.
The programme features contributions from: musicians Zoot Money and Kenny Clayton; fellow voiceover and creative Chris Sandford; industry moguls Nick Angell and Rob Townsend; and Bill's daughter, Amanda McAllister.
Presenter/Miriam Margolyes, Producer/Paul Hardy
BBC Radio 4 Publicity

See also pages 7, 119 & 131 of the new RadioTimes.

It's coming, it's Zor-tastic and it doesn't mention Frontier on Space. Blame me, I came up with the idea and wrote the script.

Thursday, 4 June 2009


It's a funny old life isn't it? Well really it's largely miserable but it does have enough funny bits in it to make it manageable I'd say.

I've been working fairly hard the last few weeks and feeling a little glum after the recent death of a relative. Not unexpected sadly and not someone we'd been close with for some years, but no matter how inevitable the loss you're still never emotionally ready and I surprised myself by how raw and sharp my grief felt when I had to explain my flatness to someone. Oddly, I've studiously avoided telling friends about the loss, trying to jolly along as usual. You think they don't need to hear it, it's not worth mentioning and, you know, after a few days like that you say to yourself 'Well, why would you bring it up now?'
And of course now here I am writing about it publicly to strangers rather than mentioning it more privately to mates. There's some kind of ridiculous compartmentalism going on here, isn't there- like having the first class bit on trains to Leeds which are only better than standard class to the extent of having plug sockets and being much less full.

I'm still deep in play rewrites (original peculiar title is staying, by the way. It has the advantage of being quirky and zingy which none of my not great replacement ideas were) and my God, I'm getting good notes, pushing me sharply and intelligently towards getting something together which I simply couldn't do on my own. I think I've learn more on this play than on any other piece of writing I've done, and that's come from the rewriting process which I've not really experienced properly before.
Previously, things I've done have tended to either be good enough to use or not good enough- the end, but, with this play, commissioned from a precis and then gradually worked up, I've finally had the experience of trying to get something from 'not good enough' but paid for up to 'good enough' through reworking. Hopefully I'll manage to do that.

In the meantime, I've just done another little job, one I never really expected to have and didn't go out hunting for, and have rather enjoyed it.
I've become a radio announcer. Now, I'm not the world's best speaker, I don't have a voice that says 'this is the BBC' to me but here I am anyway, doing some stand in slots for BBC Radio 7, mainly introducing comedy shows and, even better, mainly introducing ones I like.
This all came about after I nipped down to do my No Tomatoes chunner last month and I guess ended up talking with a bit of passion and knowledge about radio and comedy while we chatted.
Anyway, the upshot is I'll be presenting two 4 hour Sunday afternoon slots this weekend and next, introducing some lovely old comedy shows. Even better the second slot also contains one of my absolute favourite radio plays ever- Odysseus on an Iceberg by Alick Rowe from 1985 which I taped off Radio 4 on its original broadcast all those years ago and have on cassette to this day (it's the only survivor of my home taping from that era to still be with me, 24 years on).

I've tried to bring a tiny little bit of my broadcast history knowledge in lightly to leaven the effect of my droning on, it is, after all, the thing I've got going for me.
Do listen if you can bear it. I start a bit earnest I think but hopefully I loosen up. If BBC Radio 7 can bear it once they've listened back to me, I may be doing a little bit more of the same kind of thing later this month, but I'll only tell you about that if they don't mysteriously change their minds nearer the time...

Truly I am a Jack of All Trades and Master of None, all hyphens and little of worth to connect with them. Author cum comedy writer slash drama writer cum sound designer slash performer cum researcher slash broadcaster,
I'm utterly cum-slashed aren't I?