Thursday, September 20, 2007

Every Day Is Like Sunday

Many television theme tunes can take you back to certain points in your life. They can make you feel young again, remind you of somebody or just make you realise how much you hated a certain programme.

Highway To Heaven was broadcast on Sunday evenings (as such it is often confused with Harry Secombe's Highway). Therefore, on the rare occasion that I hear the tune, it brings back that horrible Sunday evening feeling when you knew you had to have a bath and go to bed within the next few hours before starting the school week again in the morning. The theme to Last Of The Summer Wine used to have the same effect, but it has since been repeated so many times over the years that I just associate it with "God! Not that bloody show again!"

Maybe it's because Highway To Heaven has rarely been screened in over fifteen years, but I honestly think that if I heard that theme tune now, I would start packing the Good News Bible into my bag before digging out my old school uniform. And I don't think it still fits, which could be embarrassing.

Highway To Heaven was actually a really good, uplifing show, even if it could sometimes be capable of being the most depressing programme in the history of Sunday evenings. Michael Landon (a man whose face makes even the most hard-hearted person want to cry) played Jonathon Smith, an angel sent from heaven to help those in need. He had some help from a human on earth. His name was Mark Gordon, an ex-cop (played by Victor French) who looked uncannily like my next door neighbour JB.

Every episode was the same. Somebody would be at their lowest point, perhaps considering suicide or crime in order to get themselves out of a fix. Jonathon would be alerted by "The Boss" (that's God, by the way) and he and Mark would set out to show the poor sap the error of their ways. The aim of every episode seemed to be to get every viewer crying by the time the end titles began to roll. Our house must have kept Andrex in business for years. My mother would usually be in tears before the opening theme tune finished, my auntie would be choking back tears by the first commercial break, followed by me and my cousins. There's nothing like a Sunday blub-fest to prepare yourself for the week ahead.

One Christmas, I received a Casio keyboard that came with a book called Easy TV Theme Tunes. The only tune that I knew was Highway To Heaven. It was a simple piece, just a combination of C and F chords. I had mastered it by teatime and was playing it along to the built in Polka rhythm. It was quite the interpretation. So good in fact, that my family spent an hour of Christmas evening in tears. Needless to say, the book was put aside on Boxing Day and the incident was never spoken about again.

That's the power of a great television show.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Waistcoat Wednesdays

It must have been fun to be a game show creator in the nineties. It seemed that all you had to do was walk around the board game section of Toys R Us and take your inspiration from the back of the boxes.

During this time, we were treated to the television versions of Cluedo and Trivial Pursuit, amongst others. I was always disappointed that my personal favourite, Game Of Life never made it to the small screen. It was the ultimate end-of-term, bring-your-toys-to-school game. Of course, it was pure propaganda with its ultimate goal of “get married, get a job, have a baby” but I just enjoyed putting little pegs in the back of a plastic car and refused to comply with society’s expectations. Seeing as that’s how I live my real-life, I suppose the game could claim credit as being the foundation of my personality. My life, sponsored by Hasbro.

Anyway, my favourite board-to-screen adaptation was Win, Lose Or Draw, a variation on the rules of Pictionary.

As if thirty minutes of watching people draw dodgy matchstick men wasn’t enough, Win, Lose Or Draw had the added bonus of celebrity participation. Ever wanted to see Michaela Strachan draw a horse? How about Bobby Davro’s pictorial rendition of “never judge a book by its cover,” or Barry McGuigan’s insane attempt to storyboard the complete Godfather trilogy in under sixty seconds? Perhaps Tommy Boyd’s (the Wide Awake Club version, not the Scottish footballer) surprising artistic ability is your turn-on? Win, Lose or Draw was definitely the show for you.

Originally presented by Danny Baker, Win, Lose Or Draw was the perfect way to spend a weekday morning. If you were off sick from school, it was the ultimate pick-me-up. If you were lucky enough to see it during the holidays, it made the sense of freedom even greater. In fact, I reckon Bruce Springsteen had probably just watched a summer marathon of Win, Lose Or Draw episodes just before he wrote Glory Days.

Baker was his usual zany self. He had a fantastic mind for trivia and would take every opportunity to show it off. He would set impromptu questions with the offer of a mug as a prize. He brought in a warning system, complete with yellow sticks if the celebrities dared use their hands instead of a pen. He was determined not to let Win, Lose Or Draw become another Give Us A Clue, and succeeded brilliantly.

It could have been a disaster when Danny Baker decided to quit and a replacement was brought in. However, Bob Mills made the show his own. His humour fitted the show perfectly. He knew that he wasn’t presenting Mastermind or University Challenge and didn’t make any attempt to attract a more upmarket audience. Well, he did wear a waistcoat on a Wednesday, but that’s about it.

After seeing Win, Lose Or Draw, games of Pictionary were never the same again. I even made my own yellow cards to give people warnings if they didn’t play the game properly (this included the unforgivable crime of refusing to call me Danny or Bob during the contest).

And yes, I even wore a waistcoat. A brown suede number that made me look like a young, chubby, short-haired Francis Rossi. If I could have grown a beard, you'd have sworn that John Virgo had just moved in next door. Good times.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

It's The Way I Tell 'Em

After a heavy lunch which prevented any further fence-building, tree-planting, hole-digging, garage-tidying or any other type of Sunday activity, my family loved nothing more than sitting down in front of the television and watching one my step-father's numerous VHS tapes. The video cupboard was full of what could only be described as "a bit of blue." Not porn I hasten to add, but "adult" comedians. Dozens of "18" rated videos lined the shelf and were always deemed to be off-limits to me. I could never understand at the time why Frank Butcher from Eastenders was not suitable for family viewing, or why I couldn't watch a performance of that nice man from Bullseye. Instead, it was usually a Candid Camera marathon that would take us up to teatime. It stayed that way until I was fifteen.

Finally, in 1995, I decided that I could not take any more hidden camera action. There are only so many times that you can see a car without an engine being pushed into a petrol station (with hilarious results) before you want to kick in the television set. I voiced my opinion and was surprised to find that they agreed with me.

"We thought we might let you watch a compilation of some of the comedians to find out if you want to see them in full" said my mother, as she inserted The Best Of The Comedians (a '70s show that featured stand-up performances from people such as Mike Reid, Frank Carson, Jim Bowen et al) into the video machine. "It might be a bit rude though!"

As I sat there listening to mother-in-law jokes and near-the-knuckle tales of fictional sexual encounters, I had to wonder when the rude bits were going to begin. What my parents didn't know was that I had been watching "grown-up" comedy in the privacy of my bedroom for a couple of years. I was particularly fond of The Day Today and was enjoying Knowing Me, Knowing You (amongst other shows) each week. BBC2 and Channel Four were my two sources of comedy and shaped much of my personality and humour. I also loved Tarrant On TV which gave an insight into the naughtier aspects of television around the world (as well as the mandatory serious bit about AIDS before the commercial break which would always be met with a solemn silence from the studio audience). In addition to this, I had been reading (and watching) people like Clive James and Stephen Fry who were not entirely wholesome.

In comparison to that lot, The Comedians offered nothing that I had not heard before. However, there was something quite appealing about the old-fashioned atmosphere that was conveyed and I eventually found The Comedians to be quite, well, pleasurable.

I never really embraced the "blue" scene as much as my parents, though. They once went on a weekend break to Bournemouth in order to catch a rare performance by Jimmy Jones. He even got them up on stage and had a drink with them afterwards. I must admit that I was quite jealous that I didn't go with them. It sounded like they had a great time. M and I were so thrilled by their tales that we even went on a little trip to Bournemouth ourselves. Unfortunately, comedy season was pretty much over by then so it was a choice between Danny La Rue and Joe Pasquale. We went with Pasquale, who disappointed us by doing the exact same routine that he had done on Des O'Connor Tonight for the previous six years (and the same routine that he still does to this day). Still, we managed to track down a rare copy of Alan Lancaster's Life After Quo in HMV, then stumbled upon a topless beach and spotted many pairs of (to quote M) "perfectly formed breasts." It was therefore well worth the trip.

However, just as I was considering crossing over to "the blue side" a major event occurred. I was dragged along to a Jim Davidson performance at Cardiff's St David's Hall. I had enjoyed Jim on Big Break but I could never identify with him as a comedian. He gave a terrible performance that saw him complain about the sound level for the first third of the show, insult people in the audience for the second third and then finish off with some ill-advised political rants. We drove home from the concert in silence. The following day, my mother asked to borrow my Alan Partridge videos "just for a breath of fresh air."

I never got them back.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Roll The Dice!

As an undergraduate student I was a lot like Garfield the cat. I ate a lot of junk food and always dreaded Mondays - the day of the most boring lecture ever written: Symbology In Media. This lecture consisted of us watching numerous episodes of long forgotten 80's Australian soap A Country Practice, listening to Professor Tulloch's bell theory and watching Eghosa writing copious notes at the front of the theatre.

To numb the boredom pains, my friend R and I created numerous little games at the back of the class. They started off on a low-key basis (making subtle changes to television programme titles to create Eghosa-style errors; Westenders, Carnation Street, Home & Further Away), grew in popularity (combining an item of food with an item of clothing to create amusing combinations like Beef Tracksuit. These would leave us breathless with stifled laughter, tears rolling down our faces until we could let it all out at the end of the lecture) and eventually left a lasting legacy.

Our final game was so big that it had to be played during the days between lectures with the results being announced (and laughed at) the following week: Book Review Club.

This game had many rules. The first rule was, of course, that you didn't talk about Book Review Club. It was 1999, we were students, Fight Club had just been released. What else would you expect?

The rules then went on to state that the participant(s) must:

-Think of the most unlikely celebrity.

-Go to the Amazon website and find either a biography or a book based on the chosen star.

-Write a review in formal style but with many subtle, intentional inaccuracies and comedy references.

- End the review with the words "Roll The Dice" or "Best Of Order Please." Don't ask me why, it was R‘s idea.

- Get as many "this review was helpful" stars as possible.

Every week, lectures were spent thinking of the chosen celebrity for the following seven days. Within six months, we had built up quite a portfolio of celebrity reviews. It was such fun that R’s brother LH even started playing the game.

Nine years later, those reviews are still on the Amazon site and are accumulating helpful votes from the biography-loving population.

Tom O'Connor

The famed presenter of ITV's Cross Wits. He used to be a teacher, you know...

Des O'Connor

No relation to Tom - just a happy coincidence. However, if you will call your autobiography Bananas Can't Fly! you're asking for trouble. LH's is the review at the top of the page.

Jimmy Hill

Famous for his chin. And a bit of football apparently.

Uri Gellar

Concentrate! I'm not sure who wrote this - it wasn't me - but it's the one that begins with "Johnathon Margolis" and ends with the brilliant "this is even more convincing than the book Uri wrote about himself."

Eric Hall

Eric Hall is a sport agent with a very outgoing personality. His catchphrase is "Monster!"

Greg Martin

Greg Martin is the son of Beatles producer George Martin. He's quite the playboy. Unfortunately, somebody called Juan has since added a review, although I have a very strong suspicion that he was inspired by our Book Review Club style.

Michael Crawford

There are quite a few genuine reviews here too. However, LH's is the one that refers to Mr Crawford as the British Sammy Davis Jr.

Ronan Keating

One of LH's later efforts. He constantly refers to Roland Keatings.

Peter Stringfellow

Ah, Peter Stringfellow - King Of Clubs. Again, a couple of people have posted reviews since (and they actually enjoyed the book). My review contains one of my favourite pieces of criticism: "I received the book as a gift after gaining a place at university, as somebody thought that it would be useful for my degree." Scathing words indeed.

Lenny Henry

Arooga, Arooga! Oh no, that's John Fashanu.

Angela Lansbury

Good old Angela Lansbury. Mrs. 'Arris Goes To Paris was one of my favourite films when I was younger. I therefore had plenty of ammunition for this one. However, I think R has to take first prize with his introduction: "I was guided to this biography by a fellow fan who goes to the same church as me."

Joan Sims

Ah, Joan Sims. The star of so many Carry Ons and the video for Morrissey's Ouija Board, Ouija Board.

Bob Monkhouse

Bob Monkhouse is genuinely one of my all-time comedy heroes. That didn't make him immune though. R seemed to have a bit of theme running through his review: "If worshipping Bobby Monkhouse was a religion than this text would be the bible" and "Three Hail Mary's and a read of Crying With Laughter later, I am truly a convert to the church of Monkhouse."

Bruce Forsyth

Brucie wasn't safe either! His career was in a bit of a trough when these reviews were written, so a few serious reviewers have come along since his Strictly Come Dancing comeback. Just scroll to the bottom of the page.

Jeremy Beadle

This is the only book from the above list that I have actually read. I found it for 50p in The Works and thought it would pass an hour. It is very similar to Alan Partridge's Bouncing Back in that nearly every anecdote ends with the phrases "needless to say, I had the last laugh" or "needless to say, they were one of the nicest people I ever met." For some reason, only my review survives (the other one is genuine) - it wasn't even particularly funny. Not even Beadle's untimely death earlier this year could bring in the reviewers, so I'm guessing that my copy has not yet risen in value.

Jim Davidson

"It's only a game so put up a real good fight" sang Captain Sensible in the theme tune to Big Break. I hope Jim had his boxing gloves on (or at least a snooker cue) because these are three of our best reviews. "Too many people get hung up on political correctness, but if you ask any of the boys down at my local Social Club who they would rather see out of Jim Davidson and Alan Davies, you will hear a resounding chorus of JIM! JIM! JIM!"

An attempt to revive Book Review Club was made in 2006. Unfortunately, Amazon have tightened up their admissions policy since the late nineties and only LH's critique of Eamonn Holmes made it through the net. However, it's a fitting end (and tribute) to a game that did a lot to brighten up cold, dark Monday mornings a decade ago.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Clues Are There

Through The Keyhole was always one of my favourite Friday evening programmes. The programme had it all. The wit of Sir David Frost (presenter), a Z-list celebrity panel (almost always featuring Lionel Blair, Eve Pollard and Richard Digance) and an uncomfortable invasion of privacy as Loyd Grossman took us on a secret snoop around the homes of celebrities.

Loyd Grossman has become something of a hero to me over the years. His dry sense of humour made programmes such as this (and Masterchef) all the more watchable. However, if you also add his delicious pasta sauces into the, ahem, mix then you've got a recipe (no more puns, I promise) for success.

Simply mouth-watering, and the sauce isn't bad either.

Of course, Loyd Grossman is also the man who dared to stand up to Christina Aguilera's sex antics during a stay at an Irish hotel. Whilst many of us would either put a pillow over our head to drown out her screams and moans, or go and knock on Christina's door and ask "any room for a small one?", Loyd had the courage to not only complain, but also to glare sternly in the young singer's direction.

That's why Loyd was the perfect man for the job on Through The Keyhole. Each tour of a celebrity's home would begin in the same way. Loyd would stride confidently up the driveway and let himself in. He would casually take off his jacket and hang it on the hat-stand (apparently you simply must have a hat-stand if you're a celebrity). He would then walk around the home, picking up the conveniently placed clues to the owner's identity (usually a garish painting of their hometown or a tacky ornament that they would obviously never own in real-life). And then he would end with those famous words: "Who would live in a house like this?'s over to you." That phrase would become a staple of every up-and-coming impressionist's act. Indeed, I do a great Grossman myself - "Ooooooh, Christina....would you kindly desist?"

The fun and games would begin in the studio. The viewers at home would be shown the identity of the home owner (almost always Freddie Starr). Each member of the panel would then have to decipher the clues. If they were on the right track ("I noticed that the owner has a lot of books - could they be an author?"), they would be greeted by clapping and cheering by the audience. If they were wrong ("I noticed that they have a kitchen - could they be a chef?"), they would be met with a deathly silence and tumbleweed blowing across the screen. Plus, Sir David would invariably laugh at them, making them feel even worse.

Eventually, either by skill or (more likely) Sir David telling them the answer, the mystery personality would be revealed. They would then appear in the studio for an interview about their home. This usually involved questions such as, "you have such an outgoing personality, does that explain the picture of a naked woman hanging in your hallway?" Eventually, the guest would be handed the Through The Keyhole Key - a huge foot-long gold key. How the audience laughed when the guest (again, usually Freddie Starr) held the key above their head and joked "this will never fit in my lock!"

It's an afternoon show now, with the lovely Lisa Snowdon instead of Loyd Grosman, but it's still a winning format that manages to convey a warm, comforting atmosphere. A bit like Loyd's pasta sauce, I suppose.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Samantha Fox Has A Very Nice Pair Of...

A lot of fun can be had following the world of the A-list celebrity, but it’s often even more of a buzz to delve into the world of - I'll try to be delicate here - the has-been.

There are many places to view this exciting species in its natural habitat, but none has ever been more pleasurable than an episode of Blankety Blank.

Although Terry Wogan had originally presented the show (with a stick-shaped microphone), I first saw Blankety Blank during the Les Dawson era (still widely regarded as the best). Of course, at the time I was not familiar with Dawson’s work as a comedian but I loved the way in which he made fun of the contestants, participants and prizes (“for the benefit of anybody who hasn’t got an Argos catalogue, here’s some of the rubbish you might be saddled with tonight”), including the consolation prize of a Blankety Blank cheque book and pen. He gave the impression that he hated every minute of the programme, but really it was clear that he was having a whale of a time.

Blankety Blank particularly appealed to me because it was a game show that relied on words and phrases. Funny and educational! Dawson would read out a sentence and a contestant would have to guess which word the celebrities would choose to complete it. For example, if Les said “Tom Cruise is very….” you would probably say “short.” However, the contestants (after lots of tom-foolery from Ray Allan and Lord Charles or the guy who played Brian Tilsley in Coronation Street) would eventually say “over-rated” and you would receive no points. You would then be defeated by your opponent (usually a very jovial vicar) who correctly answered “eyes” in response to “Samantha Fox has a very nice pair of…”

One of my favourite things about Blankety Blank was the theme tune. It took a basic melody and just repeated the title of the show over and over again. A variation was used in the final round (Super Match) where the female singers just sang “super match game, super match game, SUPER MATCH GAME!” over the same tune. It’s my ditty of choice if I ever want to tell L what I’m up to using the medium of song: “Writing a blog, writing a blog, WRITING A BLOG!”

Following Dawson’s sad death, Blankety Blank disappeared for many years before returning with Lily Savage as host. Surprisingly, it was just as good. Savage/Paul O’Grady had a similar attitude to Dawson in that (s)he made fun of the proceedings yet also managed to make the contestants feel perfectly at ease.

And the prizes were still just as bad.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Blog For Whoever

It's funny how the most unlikely things can remind you of something else. I was watching the video for Give It To Me by Timbaland (featuring Nelly Furtado & Justin Timberlake) this morning when I suddenly realised how much it reminded me of the clip for Love Wars by The Beautiful South. The way that Timbaland tapped his thigh in time to the rhythm whilst travelling on a tour bus was reminiscent of Dave Stead seemingly playing the drums on Paul Heaton's head (also on a tour bus) in the latter. It's a rare video, but you can see it around two minutes into this documentary (which in turn reminds me that they don't make "doccos" (to quote Professor Tulloch) like they used to - if you get hooked, you can also watch part one and part three).

Anyway, as I sat there with a weird mental image of a Timbaland/Dave Hemingway hybrid flashing through my brain (they both nod their head in a very similar manner), it made me realise how much I miss the band. Like a child who suddenly acknowledges that his dog is dead and they'll never play "catch the stick" together again, it dawned on me that The Beautiful South are no more.

Growing up, the band were my second favourite musical obsession (after Quo, of course). I was a fan from the moment that I heard Song For Whoever on the Smash Hits Party '89 double-cassette compilation. However, it wasn't until 1994 and the release of Good As Gold (Stupid As Mud) from the Miaow album that I truly became a completist. Any band who can ride bicycles up a hill accompanied by an elephant (and still carry on singing) is fine by me.

I just missed them on their tiny '94 tour that called at Newport Centre (something I still regret to this day), but I played Miaow constantly and it is still one of my favourite albums. It was the first CD I ever owned that contained swearing ("we'll fuck them off over there" in Hidden Jukebox) and I truly felt as if I was growing up. Such small pleasures.

Within weeks, I had written off to the address on the packaging with a request for more information. I almost collapsed when I received a hand-written postcard from bass player Sean Welch thanking me for my support. We subsequently exchanged further letters, and he even sorted me out with a signed picture (which still has pride of place in a frame next to a signed Girls Aloud calendar) and a "Northern Scum" T-Shirt (which my mother would never allow me to wear in public "in case it offended somebody").

Like Jim Davidson and his Emerson, Lake & Palmer obsession, I wouldn't shut up about The Beautiful South. As with my love of Quo, I was mocked mercilessly by school friends who didn't see the fascination. But I didn't care, I knew that I was on to something good (and even managed to have the last laugh when those same people were singing along to Rotterdam in the sixth form common room years later).

Over time, I collected the band's previous albums in reverse order. I remember tracking down 0898 on a day trip to York and spent the entire journey home listening to it repeatedly on a Walkman. Choke was picked up in an HMV sale and LP gave me her mother's copy of Welcome To The Beautiful South in return for a ticket to see them at the Cardiff Arena in 1995 (but then we had a huge falling-out over something stupid and M ended up coming with me instead - he was the only other person who shared my passion for the band).

It seemed that we were jinxed whenever we went to see them in concert though. The first time was spoilt by sound problems (support band The Lightning Seeds had to leave the stage after two songs) plus there was a bomb scare in the encore. I was never entirely sure why anybody would choose to terrorise a Beautiful South gig in Cardiff, but there you go. I was particularly annoyed because it meant that they couldn't play Woman In The Wall, my favourite song, but I suppose it's acceptable given the circumstances. Eighteen months later, the band returned to Cardiff but this time without Jacqueline Abbott (who I had a major crush on at the time) who was feeling unwell. But at least they played Woman In The Wall.

Then it happened. The sort of thing you hope for when you're a fan of a small band, but at the same time feel resentment when it does. Carry On Up The Charts: The Greatest Hits was released and The Beautiful South were suddenly huge. Clearly a lot of people were closet fans, because the ones who mocked me at school were now sharing my obsession and finally, for once, I was a fan of a "cool" band. Of course, this meant that I had to go one better than everybody else. When The Beautiful South announced two huge summer stadium concerts in 1997, I travelled all the way to Huddersfield with M to see them headline at the McAlpine Stadium. Not only that, but we queued outside the venue from 6am on a Saturday morning to ensure that we were down at the front.

This time there were no problems. Not only did The Beautiful South put on an impeccable show, I also got to see Teenage Fanclub and a whole host of other bands. John Power from Cast waved at me, Bridget from Angelica smiled in my direction (or it could have been a grimace) and The Lightning Seeds (with backing vocals from the 25,000-strong crowd) did a rare performance of Three Lions (at a time when it hadn't been milked to death). It didn't get much better than least I didn't think so.

In 1999, The Beautiful South were still big enough appear second on the bill beneath REM at the Glastonbury Festival. It was here that M, L and myself saw one of their best ever performances. The timing was perfect - the sun was setting, we were relaxing at the back of the main field (just next to that famous solitary tree), the band did a greatest hits setlist and we sang along to every word.

Maybe it's because they could never top that, but I never felt the same level of passion for The Beautiful South after that night. Yes, I admit it. I neglected them towards the end of their life. I bought all the albums, of course, but I never gave them the same level of attention as I had in the past. I stopped going to see them live and I would listen to new albums once or twice before putting them on the shelf. I suppose you could say that I took them for granted. I had the attitude that they would always be around and I could get back into them later. I didn't take much notice when they announced their split last year, but it has now hit me that a great band has been lost. A group who never really cared if they were cool or not and seemed more like a group of friends having fun than a professional musical outfit. But maybe that's what made them so good.

Thankfully I have my memories - and a great soundtrack to accompany them.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Baggy Trousers: Memories Of Stanwell School: 1991-1998

It's amazing how an artexed ceiling can get you thinking about your life.

Waiting for L to come to bed last night - don't worry, it's not that kind of blog - one of the swirls above my head reminded me of my A-Level Welsh Oral examiner. I only met the man once, over a decade ago, but the memories soon came flooding back. During the exam, as I sat there chatting away to him, I couldn't help but notice that his flies were undone. Desperately trying to think of a way to let him know in Welsh - my two female classmates were next up, after all - I accidentally stumbled over a basic sentence about the weather. If it wasn't for his bloody trousers, I'm certain I would have achieved that A grade.

Well, once I start thinking about old times, there's no stopping me. Soon I was having vivid memories of my Stanwell school days. It was as if Paul McKenna had entered the room and regressed me. Which is much better than if he had entered the room and undressed me. Some people pay hundreds of pounds for a session like that. Regression, I mean, not undressing. That probably costs more. It depends on the kind of mood Mr. McKenna's in, I suppose.

Anyway, it made me realise that I always intended to get those stories written down and, seeing as I've spilled the beans on nearly ever other aspect of my life, now is as good a time as any to get my school days out in the open.

It's a long story, you may want to prepare a flask of tea and have a family bag of Revels on standby, but hopefully it's one worth hearing.

Let's start with Mrs. H, my favourite teacher. Generally she was a quiet mild-mannered woman, but if you got on her wrong side she'd let you know about it. I only managed it once - and it took six years to do so - and even when she did scream at me, she immediately apologised by tilting her head to one side and saying "oh, G, how could I be annoyed with you?"

I'm that kind of person, you see.

Anyway, Mrs. H was my Welsh teacher from the start of Year Seven until the end of my A-Levels. She was also my Head of Year for most of my time at school. It was in this role that she enjoyed her greatest moment.

I don't know about your old school, but my afternoon assemblies were generally pretty moribund. The usual daily announcements, a bit of singing and - if we were really lucky - a visit from one of those youth theatre groups, a community police officer or PH, the evangelist/artist who spread the word of God with a packet of brush-tipped felt pens and an A3 sketch-pad balanced precariously between two stools.

One particular afternoon, our Headmaster was on a training course and the diabetic R.E. teacher had run off to the canteen for an emergency jam doughnut. With nobody else on hand, Mrs. H was roped in at the last minute to get the job done. She wasn't going to miss out on her chance to shine and gave the performance of a lifetime.

Picture the scene: It's Thursday afternoon, the day before Comic Relief 1993 (the year of the tomato, I believe) and two-hundred teenagers are sat impatiently on a hard wooden floor. Suddenly, Mrs. H comes running down the aisle brandishing a ghetto blaster, a cardboard box and a cassette copy of Michael Jackson's Dangerous album.

"I won't be a minute," she assured us.

She was a bit longer than that, but teachers and school electrical equipment never mix well. Soon enough, she had placed the box down, put the tape in, pressed Play and then returned back up the aisle and out of the assembly hall.

For a few seconds we all sat in confused silence. Then the opening bars of Heal The World began and Mrs. H re-entered the hall, slowly this time, and walked solemnly down to the front. I've never been sure if she misjudged the short distance, or if it was all part of the plan, but for the remaining six minutes of the song she stood silently in front of us, slowly nodding her head in time to the music and sometimes mouthing along to the particularly thought-provoking lyrics.

As the song faded, Mrs. H paused for thought. The moment was tarnished slightly when she forgot to press Stop and Black Or White began to play. She dealt with it professionally though, by tilting her head to one side and saying "oooh, what am I like?!"

Then it was back down to the serious business.

"That was a song by Mr. Michael Jackson, a man who loves Africa," she explained. "If Mr. Jackson was here with you today," she continued, "he would tell you about all the ways in which you can love Africa."

There was a bit of sniggering from the audience, but most of us sat there in the hope that this was all going somewhere.

"Unfortunately, Mr. Jackson is not here with us today..."

Somebody at the back shouted "BOOO!" loudly.

"...yes, yes, it's a shame I know...but the point is, although Mr. Jackson is not here with us today, I am here to paraphrase the things that I am sure he would say."

This was going to be interesting.

"If you were listening carefully to the lyrics of that beautiful song, you will have realised that there are many things, big or small, that we can do to help Africa. Can anybody give me an example?"

No volunteers were forthcoming. Mrs. H offered to play the song again, but one of the other teachers at the back of the hall started tapping their watch furiously.

"Nobody? Well let me show you this..."

At this point, she reached for the box beside her. As she picked it up, a toothbrush and a trial-size tin of Lynx Oriental body spray fell out.

"Oh dear," she cried, tilting her head to one side and desperately trying to stop anything else from spilling out as the deodorant noisily rolled up the aisle.

"In this box, I have many examples of the things that we could send to Africa. Just think, if each of us made up a similar box we could all, as Mr. Jackson so eloquently pointed out, 'heal the world'."

Mrs. H then began talking us through each item: the toothbrush and body spray, a reporter's notebook, a pack of twelve Crayola crayons, a five-piece geometry set, three pairs of socks, a copy of Fast Forward magazine, a Whoopee cushion and a tin of Tesco peaches. It was like the conveyor belt on The Generation Game.

By now, some pupils were turning purple in their attempts to stop themselves laughing. Tears were rolling down some faces and the sound of gasping could be heard from others. But Mrs. H had saved the best for last. Reaching into the box, she triumphantly held up the final item.

"Something that we all take for granted - a sponge!"

The hall erupted in laughter. Mrs. H stared back, confused. To be honest, anything would have made us laugh at that point, but the fact that she had also pronounced it "spon-ge" instead of the usual "spun-ge" was enough to send a couple of hundred teenagers into hysterics.

"Yes, well I hope I've made my point," she said quietly, still confused.

A few people began a slow hand clap. Then a few more, and a few more again. Soon, wild applause filled the room. Some of the more rowdy pupils began whistling and chanting "Mrs. H! Mrs. H! Mrs. H!"

Suddenly, a huge smile lit up her face.

"Oh thank you, thank you so much, diolch yn fawr iawn, in fact!"

She then turned to the ghetto blaster, pressed Rewind and Play at the same time and filled the hall with the ear-piercing screech of cassette tape. She then pressed Play and walked triumphantly out of the hall, accompanied once again by Heal The World. The next day, we were informed that our entire year group had been given an hour's detention for the disrespect shown to Mrs. H. But we didn't care, we were honoured to have been present at the world's best, and most confusing, school assembly.

Mrs. H wasn't the only memorable member of the Welsh department though. Her place in school legend was secured with the infamous assembly and, later, the time when her husband appeared in the Public Opinion section of the South Wales Echo saying that he liked nothing more than "a good hump" (he was discussing speeding restrictions in Cardiff), but she did have an equally memorable colleague.

Mrs. S had originally arrived at the school as a supply teacher. She made her mark on day one.

"'Scuse me, miss!" shouted LP, "I ain't got no pen!"

"What did you say?" screached Mrs. S, like a cross between Eric Cartman from South Park and Skeletor from He-Man.

"I said I ain't got no pen!"

"Damn it, say it properly girl!"

"I. Ain't. Got. No. Pen. Miss" replied LP, sarcastically.

"That's it!" screamed Mrs. S. "I ain't got no pen, I ain't got no book, I ain't got no bag. Well I ain't got no patience with you! Now, GET OUT OF MY CLASSROOM!"

Nobody ever crossed her again.

In 1996, I did my compulsory work experience at school. It's not that I wanted to be a teacher, just that my first two choices were unavailable. The Raymond Revue Bar was deemed unacceptable for a sixteen year old, and Red Dragon FM had already filled their quota of teenage tea-makers. I admitted defeat and stayed at the school. I was placed in the Welsh department under Mrs. S' supervision. On the first day I was so scared, but she turned out to be absolutely lovely and even tried to give me the old black & white television from the staff room as a gift. I politely declined the offer, although I did take the opportunity to catch up on Shortland Street one afternoon. The reception was terrible, but at least I got my fix of New Zealand-based drama.

Years later, long after I had left school, I was on my way to the Glastonbury Festival and bumped into Mrs. S at Cardiff Central station. She was rushing in the opposite direction to catch a different train, but she did briefly say a surprised "hello." In fact, as she hurried off, I'm sure I heard her say "I ain't got no time", but I can't be sure of that...

Imagine if you will, or indeed if you can, a cross between Cassandra from Only Fools And Horses and Fred Elliot from Coronation Street. If you can manage that, you've got a pretty good picture of Mrs. D, my first form tutor and also my French and English teacher. So proud of her Northern heritage, she even spoke French with a Lancashire accent. Her most used expression was "Ou est La Rochelle? I say, Ou est La Rochelle?"

Mrs. D was a great English teacher and really brought books and poetry to life. She was obsessed with the author Danny Abse. I wouldn't say she was an Abse stalker, but she did manage to get him to come to the school to give a chat about his work. At the end of the Question & Answer session - I think I asked him something about his family's law practice, for some reason - Mrs. D took him to one side and said, "here y'are Danny lad, 'ave a drink on me!"

In Year Nine, we were studying a book called Across The Barricades about the troubles in Northern Ireland. Originally, Mrs. D had asked the Irish school librarian, Mrs. LO, to say a few words. Unfortunately, she had an accent more irritating than Nadine from Girls Aloud and was more interested in asking for "silence in the library", or for us to "sit down in the library", or indeed, anything to do with being "in the library."

However, as luck would have it, Mrs. D's husband was from Belfast, so she arranged for him to come in and give a first-hand perspective on the stories in the book. He was a real man's man, a cross between the sailor from the TinTin cartoons and Jim McDonald from Coronation Street. Strange then, that when he arrived at the school gates, she sent one of the boys from the class to meet him with a bouquet of flowers.

Once he got settled into his seat, he began telling a story about his younger years.

"I was sat in the pub, when I heard a huge explosion. I thought a massive fuck-you bomb had come through the window..."

"Patrick!" shouted Mrs. D. "I told you not to use language like that in front of the children!"

"I'm sorry," he replied meekly. "I just got carried away."

It was never quite the same after that, and we were left in no doubt about who wore the trousers in that house.

Mrs. D wasn't the only Northerner at the school. There was Mr. J the woodwork teacher, who looked like one of the Chuckle Brothers. He also had an assistant called Mr. R who looked like Geoff from Byker Grove and was apparently a roadie for The Who in the seventies. However, the cream of the Northern crop was Mr. B, one of the deputy heads.

I didn't have much to do with Mr. B until I reached Sixth Form. In 1997, HTV Wales came to the school to do an unfairly damning report. It caused a huge local fuss, mainly because Mr. B had a bit of a Cook Report moment during the programme and held up a huge piece of white board to hide his face, all the time shouting "who are ya? who are ya?" over and over again.

After the programme was aired, because of my interest in Journalism, I was approached by Mr. B and the Media Studies teacher, to make my own documentary in response to ITV.

Even if I do say so myself, it was a bloody good piece of amateur production. I hired PD as a camera man and we went around the school interviewing teachers and pupils. We called it Dead End Street, inspired by the Kinks song, and it ended with a shot of me outside the school gates saying "dead end street? I don't think so!", just like that bit in The Jam's Smithers-Jones or Macauley Culkin in Home Alone 2: Lost In New York. It never made it to television, but I did earn myself some fans. Most notably, a few girls from a couple of years below who insisted on following me home and trying to force themselves into my house. My mother was having none of it, and I finally realised how Rick Astley must have felt after he released Ain't Too Proud To Beg.

I thought that would be the end of my dealings with Mr. B, but I had one more encounter with him on the night of my eighteenth birthday. A group of us went to the Cefn Mably pub when I finished work at Redlands News - I needed to drown my sorrows after the whole "Cool At 18" debacle. Anyway, it was all high spirited and we got chatting to a local man called J who was originally from South Africa. He looked like Lou Carpenter from Neighbours, but sounded like Du Plessis from Wild At Heart. During the course of the conversation, we told him that we were from the local school.

"Oh man," he shouted. "I've been trying to get my son in that school for years."

With perfect timing, a bunch of teachers from our school came into the pub. They had been playing football and were planning on a quiet drink. Unfortunately, one of my friends muttered something along the lines of "oh no, it's Mr. B."

J didn't miss a trick.

"Hey man, you know these guys?" he asked.

"Yes," said I, "they're our teachers."

Without a moment's hesitation, he marched over to their table.

"Hey guys, my name is J and I have a son. I'd like him to go to your school."

One of the teachers tried to explain that this was not the place to talk about it. J was undeterred and continued to do his best to win their attention. After many awkward minutes, he stood up and started hammering on their table. "I always tell my son about the importance of getting your fucking piece of paper. You guys are going to stop him getting his FUCKING PIECE OF PAPER!"

We decided it was probably a good time to leave. That wasn't the end of it though. Next morning, we were summoned to Mr. B's office and, although he took it all quite well, we were told that it might be a good idea to choose a different pub in future, and to not mix with unpredictable South African men. It's a piece of advice that I've kept on board ever since.

Picture a man with the build of Herman Munster and a frown line on his forehead like Mr. Worry from the Mr. Men. I'd like to introduce to you Mr. P, the Biology teacher. He only taught me for the final six weeks of GCSE Science, but he more than made his impression.

Many teachers use a variety of different methods to keep classes under control. I'm no expert, but I think that a catchy little phrase would surely have to be up there as one of the more practical, and indeed friendly, ways to exert your authority. Mr. P certainly thought so. His three word catchphrase was dropped in casually at first, but as classes became more and more rowdy towards exam time, he had no option but to crack it out at least once a day: "Cut the sillies!"

Hearing that phrase today takes me right back to Mr. P's classroom. For some reason, a lesson on igneous rocks springs to mind, or "Ig-neee-ous" as Mr. P had a habit of saying. AM was being a bit of a disruptive git that morning, even more so than usual. Mr. P walked over to his desk and quietly asked him to desist. AM just looked at Mr. P and squeezed his forehead with two fingers, so as to create a fake frown line. It was really quite effective.

"Now, my boy!" said Mr.P, sternly. He liked calling people "my boy", even if they were girls.

"I like a challenge, and you my boy, are a challenge. Now CUT THE SILLIES!"

It would have been hard to take anybody else seriously, but Mr. P showed that he was a force to be reckoned with that day.

The female equivalent of Mr. P was, coincidentally, Ms. P. She was a tall, slim, stern-looking woman who was a deputy head for most of the week, but did a bit of JP-ing, for want of a better explanation, down at the local magistrate's court on a Friday. Needless to say, she scared me to death.

The first time we met, I made the schoolboy error of calling her "Miss P."

"Go out of the door and come back in, boy!" she boomed. "It's MIZZ, not MISS!"

I never made that mistake again.

At one point, there was a rumour going around that Ms. P had walked in on Mr. H (the non-diabetic R.E. teacher) can I put this?...pleasuring himself. Apparently, she took one look at him and shouted, "put it AWAY, Mr. H! PUT. IT. AWAY!"

To this day, I'm not entirely sure how I summoned the courage, but during a school trip to Granada Studios, I asked her if it was true. What can I say? She seemed to soften towards me when I showed off my expert knowledge of the residents of Coronation Street, and I saw an opportunity that couldn't be missed.

"A lady never comments, boy! Never!"

If this was The Bill and I was Sergeant Smithy (and let's just say that L would like that very much), I'd be taking her "no comment" as an admission of guilt. On the day in question though, I took no further action. Mainly because I was distracted by a Reg Holdsworth T-shirt and an ornamental version of Alf's Corner Shop.

Now, this may come as a surprise to you, but I'm no sportsman. Unfortunately, taking P.E. was insisted upon, so I had the pleasure of weekly contact with Mr. S, the games teacher.

A short man, he made up for his lack of height with some lightning speed. There's a scene at the end of The Blues Brothers when the army and a SWAT team are storming the Richard J. Daley Plaza and all you can hear is the sound of them chanting: "Hut, Hut, Hut." Mr S. was a bit like that. Sometimes, if I was in a particularly boring Physics lesson, I would gaze out of the classroom window and watch the action out on the sports field. Mr. S would be there, whizzing around the pitch as fast as his little legs would carry him, almost always wearing a tiny pair of khaki shorts and a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan "BASKETBALL IS LIFE, THE REST IS JUST DETAILS."

Usually, he'd be shouting out random surnames in that chummy way that only P.E and Drama teachers can get away with: "Pass the ball, Woody!" or "Play it long, Gouldy!" or "For God's sake Lewis, you pecker-head, you're going the wrong way!" One day, as I watched all this going on, a sound came into my head. A cross between the clickety-clack rhythm of an old King George V steam train and the musical skills of Scatman John. Something along the lines of "skiddly bip, skiddly bip, skiddly bip." It was perfect, like Benny Hill on acid. From that moment on, it became Mr. S' personal soundtrack. In my head, at least.

I put up with games lessons for a couple of years, but by the time I was fourteen I'd had enough. Unfortunately, Mr. S was no pushover. I couldn't just go up to him and say, "sir, I've forgotten my kit" because he'd just turn around and say "I don't bloody care, you can play in your pants" or "no problem, you'll be on the skins team this week" (and when you're a chubby young thing, you really don't want to be on the skins team).

There was no way he could make me participate if I had a note though, so every Sunday evening I would go through the medical dictionary that my mother got free with the Today newspaper and choose a random, temporary ailment that could be used as a handy excuse on Monday morning. Of course, it would also have to miraculously clear up by the same afternoon. I'd then get my mother in a good mood - usually just after the big tearful reunion between a woman and her Australian half-brother on Surprise Surprise - and she'd do the honours with her signature.

Toothache, a sprained ankle, pneumonia - I had it all. I think I even got away with period pain once. Mr. S must have known what I was up to - he was probably taking bets on next week's illness in the staff room - but sure enough, he had no choice in the matter and I was permitted to stay in my uniform, carry the balls out on to the field and stand on the touchline, where I usually entertained myself by doing really over-the-top commentaries about the on-field action. Much to his annoyance.

However, Mr. S' finest moment was off the sports field. Three years into my stretch at school, they decided that two high-rise towers and a few dozen Portakabins were not the most inspiring environments for learning. Their solution was to demolish the whole school and start again from scratch. Obviously, this was a big job. So, while they erected the fancy new buildings, we were forced into temporary on-site accomodation.

During this time, our assemblies were held in a youth centre situated on school-owned land. Singing At The Name Of Jesus while the Street Fighter II machines flashed away in the background was quite an experience. Mrs. C had to pump that piano peddle for all she was worth, just to make herself heard over the sound of Ken and Ryu beating each other up. They were characters in the game, I hasten to add, not boys in my year.

Anyway, as winter approached and the sports field became muddier, pupils were starting to make dirty footprints all over the youth centre floor. Soon, the manager began to complain. Usually in cases such as this, a senior member of staff would be called upon to lecture us on the importance of respecting other people's property. It says a lot about Mr. S' standing in the school community that he - a humble P.E. teacher - was chosen to give the speech. To be fair, he did dabble in a bit of Geography teaching whenever one of the department was off sick, but this was a big deal. Mrs. H even gave him an introduction, as if he was a guest on Wogan or something.

So we're all sat cross-legged on the floor, the smell of sweat and wet mud is in the air and there's a sticky mess near the stage area - it's possibly a spilt can of Shandy Bass, but it could be a Top Deck Lager & Lime. Soon, the unmistakable sound is heard from the back entrance - "skiddly bip, skiddly bip, skiddly bip" - but faster this time. Mr. S is a man on a mission. He's even changed his T-shirt. This time, tennis is life and there's a big yellow ball on the back to prove it. Without any fussing around, he gets straight down to business.

"I've received some complaints from SL that some of you boys - not mentioning any names Woody, Gouldy, Lewis you pecker-head - are coming straight to assembly from the field without wiping your bloody feet!"

Mrs. H winced. Swearing was a pet hate and I hadn't seen her look like that since I lent her my copy of The Beautiful South's Miaow containing an uncensored version of Hidden Jukebox. Undeterred, Mr. S continued.

"So, I'm telling you all now, I will not tolerate shitty shoes in this building anymore!"

"Oh! Mr. S!" cried Mrs H, clearly in distress.

"I'm sorry Mrs. H," he replied. "But this has to be said. There will be no more SHITTY SHOES in here from now on!"

"Oh! Please, Mr. S! Nobody wants this!"

"Mrs. H, shitty shoes are a serious matter and I've had enough!"

Mrs. H couldn't take any more. Bringing the assembly to an abrupt end, she escorted Mr. S from the building. He continued mumbling about "shitty shoes", but he was soon drowned out by Mrs. C playing an impromptu, over-zealous version of Onward Christian Soldiers. His speech did the trick though, there were no further dirty protests in the youth centre from that moment on.

Sports-wise, that was the end of my association with the P.E. department. Unless you count pretending to die when Mr. G fired the starting pistol at Sports Day, or when I persuaded PL to do his impression of Mr. K, a student teacher with no sense of humour who marched straight over to us and said, "Oi, fatties, you make fun of me and I'll make fun of you."

It wasn't the end of memorable assemblies, though. Before the new school buildings were officially opened, we had one final session in the youth centre. It was led by Mr. L, one of the deputy heads and a History teacher - a short, chubby man with a lisp who liked nothing more than a good chat. He reminded me of Benny The Ball from Top Cat. On this particular afternoon, he came strolling down to the front of the room with a big grin on his face and an even bigger pair of scissors in his hand.

"Good afternoon, clath" he said.

See, I told you he had a lisp.

"Thith afternoon, I would like to teach you about the importanth of thaying thank you."

Are you following so far? Good.

"Now, everytime I thay thank you, I'm going to cut off a pieth of my tie."

There was a reason for this at the time, but for the life of me I can't remember it at all. But basically, if you don't say thank you, you're likely to end up with a really big tie. Or something like that.

"In Thpain, they thay 'Muchoth Grathiath'" he continued, and snipped an inch off his tie.

"In Waleth, we thay 'Diolch.'"

Off went another inch.

"In Italy, they thay 'Grat-thi"

Soon, he was down to his final inch. It was surely over, wasn't it?

"In Jamaica, they thay...ha,ha,ha....'Grat-thi Mon'"

He stood there looking pleased with himself, wearing nothing more than a knot. Well, a shirt and trousers too, obviously. That would just be wrong, otherwise.

"Tho you thee, make thure you alwayth thay thank you."

Then he walked off, leaving Mrs. L - a large woman who once had a boy suspended because he opened both double doors for her as she came down the corridor - to pick up the pieces of his tie. As she did so, she made a noise not unlike Muttley in Wacky Races. Something along the lines of "shnuffle, muffle, muffle." I got the impression that he did that particular assembly a lot.

Mr. L was typical of the History department. Mr. TH was like a cross between John Major and Mr. Bean, although I suppose there's not a lot of difference between the two really. He made us watch the final series of Blackadder at least once a term and detested the phrase "joy ride" because he had witnessed a car accident near his home and, as he told us on many an occasion, "it's no joy when your head is rolling down the road on a ride of its own." It didn't stop people winding him up by singing Roxette's Joy Ride though. Of course, I never stooped that low. I just found his number in the phone book one Saturday night, rang him up and played Radiohead's Creep down the line. Next History lesson, he took five minutes to complain about the "idiots in the world" who "take pleasure in abusing the luxury of telecommunications."

I sat next to TR in History and we would usually end up making each other laugh by doing impressions of various teachers. Mr. TH noticed our laughter and asked me to read a Siegfried Sassoon war poem out loud as punishment. The piece in question began with the line, "does it matter if you lose a leg?" For some reason, I decided to recite it in my best Mr. P voice. TR couldn't contain his laughter any longer and blurted out a giggle that set the rest of the class off. Mr. TH slammed down his book and shouted "the loss of legs, or indeed any limb, is no laughing matter!"

In an effort to make amends, TR and I offered to help him pack up his classroom when the school was demolished. He accepted our help and sent us off to find "one or two boxes." I take any mission seriously, so we headed off to the local Spar, Post Office and even Redlands News. We must have collected around twenty boxes in total and took great pleasure in stacking them up to the ceiling. Mr. TH entered the classroom, took one look at our work and shouted, "I don't want all these! I want them OUT!" Unfortunately for him, we had a lesson to attend so made a swift exit.

Mrs. LL was much more easy-going. During our first ever History lesson in Year Seven, she introduced herself by saying, "I'm Mrs. LL and I love the Tudor Period because there's lot's of juicy sex - but don't tell Mr. TH I said that!" Bearing in mind that she was in her sixties and a softly-spoken Welsh woman, this candid confession came as a bit of a shock to our eleven-year-old minds.

I regard it as both a blessing and a curse to have come into contact with so many unique personalites at a young age, but I wouldn't have had it any other way. I learnt more about people-watching and life's characters during my time at school than anything else, but had it not been for those valuable lessons, I wonder how else I would have coped with the Eghosas of the world later in life. For that I am grateful, although I'm not sure that's the lasting lesson they wanted me to take away after six years of school.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

DOES.NOT.REGISTER: Schools Programming Of The 1980s-1990s

I never particularly enjoyed the daily routine of school until I reached the sixth form (and even then, it was only because I found myself with more free time). From the age of five until eighteen, school was just something that took me away from watching television for six hours. Not completely though, because schools programming provided a welcome break from normal lessons and a chance to sit in a musty old room watching a twenty-year-old Philips television set.

Many programmes were of a surprisingly high standard. Some employed the services of well-known personalities - it was obviously (and correctly) believed that we would pay more attention to somebody like Chris Tarrant (narrator of Stop, Look And Listen) than a wooden, patronising relic of a presenter left over from the early years of the BBC.

My primary school friends and I were particularly fond of ITV's schools programming (it later moved to Channel Four in order to make room for trivial (but fantastic) entertainment like Lucky Ladders and The Time, The Place). It wasn't that the programming was of a particularly high standard, but rather because ITV turned every programme into an event.

Once a week, we would be escorted to the television room in Victoria Primary in order to watch a history programme called How We Used To Live. The title says it all really. It consisted of dramatic reconstructions of previous stages in history, as well as interviews with the sort of people who like to spend their weekends re-enacting the Tudor Period and staying in character for the entire duration (rather like Mistress Sweet, who took my Cultural Criticism seminar group around Llancaiach Fawr and managed to persuade S to get into bed with her "to illustrate a point").

Anyway, we would always have to arrive at the school's television room a good fifteen minutes in advance. This was partly because the teacher could never work out how to turn on the set and flick it to channel three. Did they not have a television at home? Was the school television the equivalent of one of those old cars that needed a man with a flag to wind it up with a handle beforehand? Whatever the reason, the teacher (after much arsing around and calling to the headmaster for assistance) would be left red-faced when a cheeky eight-year-old in a SuperTed T-Shirt managed to get the television up and running within thirty seconds and would program the primitive video recorder as an added bonus.

The other reason for our early arrival was because we all insisted on seeing the ITV Schools countdown clock (later just an animated screen) and singing along to its cheesy theme. I knew boys who broke down in tears when we missed it one week, so our teacher never made that mistake again. We would sit down (cross-legged of course) on the floor and eagerly await the clock. A cheer would greet its arrival. The music would begin and twenty-five boys and girls would break into song.


"Be quiet, children!" the exasperated teacher would shout. "You don't want Mrs R coming down here and shouting at you!"

Of course, the threat would just make us sing even louder. Inevitably, when the programme actually started, a few over-eager kids would continue singing (usually the same jokers who would add an extra "of Kings" to the end of that hymn that goes "Sing Hosannah! Sing Hosannah! Sing Hosannah to the King of Kings!" just to annoy the pianist during morning assembly). The teacher soon got wise to this however, and would threaten them with a television ban the following week. That shut them up.

However, the jewel in the crown of schools programming was not an ITV show at all. Every Friday we would be treated to one of the BBC's best programmes ever. It's title? Look And Read.

For such a boring name, the show had it all. Annoying down-with-the-kids-and-not-too-patronising robot? Check (his name was Wordy).

Truly fantastic serialised stories? Check (There were many, but highlights included Geordie Racer (a story about a group of child pigeon racing enthusiasts in Newcastle who manage to catch a gang of criminals during the course of The Great North Run) and Dark Towers (a genuinely scary ghost story set in a haunted castle. I seem to remember a headless knight wandering the corridors. I had nightmares for weeks). Well written workbooks filled with questions about the stories that made you feel like you were a contestant on The Krypton Factor's observation round? Check.

However, the greatest thing about Look And Read were the educational (yet catchy) songs. These tunes, which had lyrics like "get everyone's attention with an exclamation mark!" and titles like Magic E would be accompanied by Wordy whizzing around the screen drawing exclamation marks, commas, apostrophes and "E"'s. They were my first lessons in writing and even now, I'll still recite the lyrics of Exclamation Mark in my head whenever I am unsure whether one is needed or not. Thank you, Wordy!

Of course, being a keen Welsh student throughout my school life, it would be criminal of me not to share some of Cymru's greatest additions to the genre. There were two of note. Now You're Talking was a straightforward listen-and-repeat Welsh tutorial show. It is still shown now and again on S4C (Welsh language channel) today, complete with early '90s hairstyles and fashions which are now rather distracting when trying to learn how to list the contents of your handbag, or how to order a meal at a Welsh restaurant. The best episode, in my opinion, was the one dedicated to illness. The producers hired the most over-the-top actor imaginable. When he said "O Mam, Mae bola tost da fi!" ("Oh Mother, I have a stomach ache!") you'd be forgiven for thinking that he was having a stroke. Still, it embedded the phrase in my memory and that, ultimately, is the sign of a good educational programme (whether intentional or not).

The other great Welsh offering was Stabec. This show was a serialised drama about a teenage alien who had fallen from space. Somehow, he managed to have impeccable English skills but decided that he would be better off learning Welsh. He even had a catchphrase - a robotic "DOES. NOT. REGISTER". He made friends with a teenage boy and girl (I thought she was rather foxy when I was fifteen). These two humans would (rather rudely) speak nothing but Welsh when in his company, so he spent most of each episode walking around Cardiff with a very confused look on his face. Almost every sentence would be met with "DOES.NOT.REGISTER", to the point where you wished he'd just hurry up and learn the bloody language or just give up and make friends with some English speaking chums - there are plenty of them around here. Still, "DOES.NOT.REGISTER" became the official catchphrase of Welsh lessons for the rest of my school life.

When I reached sixth form and took A-Level Welsh, we were banned from speaking English for the entire duration of each lesson. Should one of us slip up (there were only three of us), our teacher would glare and say "DOES.NOT.REGISTER" until we repeated the sentence in Welsh. We all passed with flying colours though, which was a particularly good result considering that our Welsh Oral examiner had his flies undone for the entire exam and none of us could keep a straight face. It was such an ordeal for E that she almost threw up afterwards. Good times.

Schools programming is still going strong on both Channel Four and BBC2. I'll often have a look if I have nothing better to do, and it always amuses me to see some of the old shows still being aired. Geordie Racer, for example, is still a firm favourite. Maybe they can't be bothered to make any new material, or they don't think the old shows can be bettered. Either way, they're giving a whole new generation something to laugh about in a decade's time.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Best Of Order, Please

The 100 Most Influential Television Programmes In My Life

#97: BBC Darts Coverage

Whenever I tell people that I am a fan of the sport of darts, they always give me a look of disbelief.

"But, don't drink" they gasp.

"You don't sit around the house in a string vest" (that's what they think).

"You're not an intimidating thug with a loud voice!"

This is all true. Yes, I'm here to bust the stereotype of darts fans. I'm teetotal, 6'3" and wouldn't hurt a fly. Unless it was buzzing infuriatingly around my face. And even then I would politely ask it to stop doing so before resorting to violence with a copy of the Radio Times.

My head is shaved, but a thug I am not. Having said that, my appearance does come in handy if I need to get out of a sticky situation. Take recently for example. I was walking through Penarth when I couldn't help but admire a lovely young lady in the street. What can I say? Her breasts were bouncing in a very provocative manner. Her boyfriend, noticing me staring, was about to give me a glare when he thought better of it. Instead, he seemed to be either a) hiding behind his good lady due to fear or b) trying to push her towards me, as if to say "here, you have her. I don't feel man enough anymore!" Of course, I wasn't going to say "my good man, there is no need to be scared of me. Look, I have The Complete Works Of Oscar Wilde in my jacket pocket!" No, I did what any red-blooded male would do in the same situation.

I gave her a shy smile and quickened my pace.

Now where was I? Ah yes, darts. What a game. Most darts fans have a choice to make. Do you follow the BDO (British Darts Organisation) or the PDC (Professional Darts Corporation)? Personally, I'm a fan of the BDO "dartists" as I like to call them. The guys (and gals) throwing those arrows have a flair that would put Michelangelo to shame.

The BDO has a more old-school feel to it. Watching footage of the World Championships from the Lakeside Country Club every January feels so...traditional. It's like taking a post-Christmas time warp back to the seventies and is the perfect way to get set for the new year ahead.

My problem with the PDC is not so much with the players, after all they don't play any differently to the BDO competitors, it's more to do with the presentation. PDC games are shown exclusively on Sky Sports. They have a habit of treating even the smallest tournament like a Jean-Michel Jarre concert. Lights, lasers, explosions, chanting....and those are just the sounds coming from Phil "The Power" Taylor's dressing room. However, the biggest annoyance for me is Sid Waddell, the commentator.

There are some who hold Sid in high esteem. They regard him as a genius because of quotes such as:

"That was like throwing three pickled onions into a thimble."

"That's the greatest comeback since Lazarus."

"He looks about as happy as a penguin in a microwave."

Now, in soundbite form, these quotes are quite chucklesome. Unfortunately, he tends to say the same thing (or variations on a theme) at every match. They become predictable and boring after a while and I usually have to mute the man to put him out his misery. By pressing a button on the remote control, you understand. I don't personally march up to the Blackpool Winter Gardens and throttle him in the commentary box.

No, it's Tony Green on the BBC for me. OK, so he comes across as a bit of a perv with outbursts such as:

"Oooh, there are some lovely ladies in tonight"

"That's a great double top....and his shot wasn't bad either"

"She's giving him a look that says "you're not getting any treats tonight""

But somehow it's forgiveable. Maybe it's because I grew up watching Tony on Bullseye (the darts game show hosted by Jim Bowen) every Sunday night for about twenty years. It's hard not to think of him as anything other than a long-lost uncle who turns up at weddings and birthdays, then spends the whole time squeezing the arses of all the female revellers. But at least he doesn't have to keep spouting off bad puns like Waddell. I'd let him squeeze my arse if it meant Sid would shut up for a couple of minutes.

I watched my first ever darts tournament when I was fourteen. I was bored one Saturday evening and was idly flicking through the channels. The darts coverage was just about to begin on BBC2. It was the semi-finals of the European Championships 1994. Peter Manley was playing Mike Gregory in a nail-biting match, but what impressed me most was this man:

Martin Fitzmaurice. He took the stage and silence descended upon the room.

"Are yooooouuuu readyyyyyyyy" he yelled, before being greeted by a huge cheer.

"Ladies and gentlemen..." he paused for dramatic effect.


Wow. I've seen some sporting events in my time. Olympic opening ceremonies, World Cup kick-offs, the firm thighs that dominate ladies' hockey. Nothing, I say, nothing can come remotely close to the buzz that Fitzmaurice generated that evening. And he still does it today. It's his trademark. The crowd even join in with him on the "let's play darts" as if he is some sort of rock star singing his most famous chorus. He's that good.

Then Tony Green started talking. I didn't even know that he even had a job outside of Bullseye. I was just under the impression that he was Jim Bowen's buddy, tagging along for the ride. But no, he really knew his stuff. And he had an eye for the "lovely ladies" that really appealed to my 14-year-old mind. Why hadn't I discovered darts sooner? This was great stuff!

In the crowd, women waved banners that said "Oh Peter, You're So Manley" - Waddell would kill for a pun like that. I've only ever seen one banner that beats it. At the 1994 Smash Hits Poll Winners' Party, a group of Take That fans had a sign that said "Robbie - Point Your Erection In My Direction!" It was clearly a vintage year for crazed fans.

The atmosphere during the match was tense. It drew me in like no other sporting event had before. From the sweat on the players' chubby faces, the doubles missed by a millimetre, the pensioners in the front row who seemed to keeping score (although they could have just been playing bingo). But it was this man who really stole the show:

George "The Puppy" Noble. This man had started umpiring at darts competitions during that very year (hence his nickname). These days, he is one of the most respected umpires in the business. His mistakes are rare and he is always the complete professional. What impressed me on that Saturday evening back in '94 was the way in which he dealt with a group of rowdy men in the front row. Stopping the game, he said:

"Gentlemen, if you continue to persist, I will have you escorted from the building."

He was then wildly applauded. In other sports, the referee is often met with a torrent of abuse should he say a word out of place. In darts, he is respected. Applauded. What a feeling!

Puppy's other great talent is the disdain that he shows for a low score. Even non-darts fans are aware of the scream of

"Ooooooooonnnnnnnnneeee HHuuuuuuuuuuunnnnnnnnnddddddreeeeeeeeeeddddddddddd Annnnd Eightyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy"

whenever a player achieves the maximum score of one-hundred and eighty. George does that too, but what you really want to see is a player get less than sixty.

I once witnessed an abysmal score of twenty-three. George gave the player a look as if to say "you absolute idiot. My grandmother could play better than that." He then put the microphone close to his mouth and almost whispered "twenty....three." The player didn't make that mistake again.

Mike Gregory went on to win the match, leaving Peter Manley drenched in a mixture of sweat and tears. There was no blood though. All darts had hit the board safely that evening. From that moment on, I was hooked and always made sure that I tuned in to any games that the BBC decided to broadcast. It's a tradition that continues today, although The Puppy has now sadly moved over to the PDC. However, even that can't spoil an annual tradition that is matched only by the World's Strongest Man competition in rounding off the Christmas and New Year television experience in style.

Prawn Cufflinks on eBay

For Search Engine: Big Boobs Tits Titties Jugs Norks Bangers Whoppers Pups Puppies Baps Yaps Knockers Breasts Naturals Topless Nips Nipples Pokies Legs Pins Thighs High Heels Stilettos Stockings Suspenders Lingerie Tights Female Male Celebrity Celebrities Gallery Galleries High Quality Pictures Medium Quality Pictures HQ Pictures MQ Pictures Promo Candid Promos Candids Desktop Wallpaper Wallpapers Lingerie Bikini Bra Panties Mini Skirt Underwear Undies Underpants Briefs Knickers Naked Nude Nudity Shirtless Bare Chested Hairy Chest Y-Fronts Speedo Suit Tuxedo Vidcaps Screen Captures Caps Screencaps Screen Caps Hands Feet Toes Blond Blonde Brunette Redhead Ginger Slutty Sweet Lolita Uniform Classic Vintage Retro Television TV Telly Music Films Movies Video Computer Games Toys 1980s 1970s 1990s Strictly Come Dancing The X Factor Dancing With The Stars Celebrity Big Brother I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here Dancing On Ice Reality