01/07/2016

Top of the Pops 16 July 1981



Top of the Pops 1981 currently on BBC4. Watched by Chris Arnsby
BBC1, 7.25pm. Bellamy's Backyard Safari has just finished and now something is about to happen. Something wonderful.
Multi-coloured records fly out of fog towards the camera. The words Top of the Pops flicker on screen. Numbers flash and disappear. More words, like searchlights. Top. Of The. Pops. A large pink tinted record flies to the centre of the screen, again the words Top of the Pops flicker, and the record explodes. All backed by a staccato drum beat, swooping electronic noises, and a weird ethereal voice.
I'm not sure when Top of the Pops last used a proper title sequence. Best guess 13th June 1974. That was the last programme broadcast before a 7 week strike, and when it returned the new format was a DJ introduction followed by the charts backed with Whole Lotta Love. A format which persisted in one form or another until the end of a different strike, the 1980 one by Musician's Union members. Michael Hurll has been producer since then, and he's experimented with different ways to start the show. There was the preview of the night's attractions -ditched along with the doomed dual presenter format- and since then the show has just sort of lurched onto the air with a DJ awkwardly trying to welcome viewers to the programme over the introduction to the first record. I don't doubt that in 1974 it seemed exiting and immediate to cut straight from the continuity announcer to the DJ talking directly to the home audience but by 1981 it was time for a change. A good title sequence should evoke the spirit of a programme and this fifteen second strip of film does that perfectly. It's fast, exciting, a little bit spooky, and it's not about music or bands or instruments; it's about the singles.
(The new title sequence actually premièred last week -1981 relative time- for the 900th edition of Top of the Pops but that can't be shown on BBC4 because of the presenter)

29/06/2016

The Finest Hours



Visually impressive re-creation of astonishing true life sea rescue
In early 1952 a winter storm whipped up the seas around the town of Chatham in Cape Cod and remarkably two oil tankers were split in half by the raging waters. While the local rescue service was focussed on the more accessible SS Fort Mercer, a crew of just four set off to try and rescue survivors from the SS Pendleton. This entailed a journey which saw them having to ride over giant waves and somehow find the ship without a compass which gets blown overboard. Meanwhile those left on half of the Pendleton did their utmost to keep the ship afloat and wait to be rescued. If you read the plot for this film you’d imagine it as an unlikely fiction but it is actually a true story of amazing courage and determination from both sides of the rescue attempt recognised as the finest in the history of the US Coast Guard. 

27/06/2016

Dangerous Visions


Review by Oliver Wake
May and June saw the return of BBC Radio 4’s annual Dangerous Visions season of dystopian science fiction, featuring both adaptations and original stories and dramas.
Joseph Wilde’s Produce was an effective but emotive drama about ‘designer babies’ and the danger of children being viewed as consumer products, with their attendant manufacturer liabilities. Equally intriguing but less dramatic was Your Perfect Summer, On Sale Here, by Ed Harris, which posited a world of addictive immersive videogames drawn from the memories of human subjects. Sarah Woods dramatised and updated William Morris’ socialistic 1890 novel News from Nowhere to present a future London as a bucolic post-capitalist utopia.

24/06/2016

Be Careful What You Wish For



The UK’s EU referendum result is a reckless leap in the dark
In the early stages of the European Union referendum when everyone knew a lot less about the respective cases for staying or leaving, it was suggested that the choice essentially boiled down to a simple one. If you are risk averse vote to Remain. If you like taking risks vote to Leave.  There was also a feeling- and nothing more tangible than a feeling- that when it came down to the wire more people would end up voting Remain and not taking that risk. These sorts of things were dismissed by hard core campaigners (from both sides) who said we should and would vote on the real long term serious political and economic issues.  Trouble is nowadays with social media spreading ideas like wildfire most people don’t do that. Most people vote based either on one particular issue that it niggling them or else on little more than gut feelings. In that respect the result is no more than a reckless leap in the dark, an expression of an optimistic `grass is greener on the other side` view. I’m sure there were just as many Leave voters who had nervous stomachs on hearing the results this morning as those who voted Remain. As is already becoming apparent nobody actually knows what will happen now. The mechanism is clear enough- the soon to be ubiquitous Article 50- but the economic and social repercussions of operating that mechanism are not. 

17/06/2016

How the European Union saved Liverpool


I’d like to tell you my EU related tale regarding my home town Liverpool which was saved by the EU. Back in the Nineties, the city was in a tailspin following decades of national and local neglect and the situation was so bad that it qualified for what was known as Objective One status, basically identifying it as one of the poorest places in the EU. While the Conservative government of the time had contemplated allowing such places to slip into what they described as “managed decline” the EU targeted projects into which they donated a considerable amount of money. This was not a handout as such nor was it a magic wand that would cure the city’s ills. It was however a solid supporting mechanism the idea of which was to help the area recover and thus be able to support itself in the future and help create a platform upon which private business could then invest in. This in turn led last decade to the double win of the redevelopment of a large swathe of the city centre known as Liverpool One and the city’s winning the European Capital of Culture status for 2008. Ever since then Liverpool has thrived and grown and now that is spreading beyond the city centre outwards. Yet the seeds of this recovery lie in that EU money. When few UK politicians cared, the EU did,whatever other motives might have gone into the mix. There are no doubt several other places which have had similar about turns.


27/05/2016

X Men Apocalypse



Latest X Men film is bigger but not always better.
There’s a knowing gag made by a character during this film about third movies in series always being the worst and in a way it turns out be the case. The standard being high already means that X Men Apocalypse is still a very good film (we’re not talking X Men Last Stand or anything) yet it lacks something at its kernel. It may well be that we have just seen too many X Men movies now because some of the dilemmas and arguments are familiar beats. To try and overcome this the film also makes some rather untenable leaps notably during the visual standout Quicksilver sequence. This character’s keynote scene in Days of Future Past was both funny and clever. Here, the same admittedly impressive trick is shown again yet the whole thing is extended and becomes unlikely. However fast he can move, surely he could not achieve all he does in such a short time? Just as the kitchen scene in the last film symbolised how fleet of foot that movie was this one shows how comparatively sluggish this one is in danger of becoming.  That being said, it’s still a very cool thing to watch. 

20/05/2016

All Things Must Pass



The story of the US’s biggest record store is told in a talky but absorbing documentary.
A while back there was a TV series which showed new businesses starting up and how they coped with the initial launch. It was quite an eye opener seeing how much is involved to the point where you were left wondering how any business managed to get started. This documentary by Colin Hanks seems to suggest things were a lot easier back in the 1960s in the United States. It tells the story of Tower Records which became the largest music chain in the US and even had a branch in London which I remember well. Considering how huge Tower became the origins appear to have been a mixture of chance and opportunism. 

13/05/2016

Should we pay to use the iPlayer?



One of the things included in the government’s latest incursion into public service broadcasting is the idea of including the iPlayer in the BBC’s licence fee. Apparently an increasing amount of people- reckoned to be more than a half a million- are watching BBC programmes on the iPlayer without having paid the licence fee creating a potential loss of revenue for the Corporation. I’m not sure how they know this. Can the BBC actually know if someone watching the iPlayer on a phone for example belongs to a household that have not paid the fee? Aren’t they encouraging this anyway by increasing the amount of original programmes on the iPlayer? They’ve spent years trying to get more people to use it! Could they not forsee this when they first launched the thing?