Thursday, 31 May 2012
With Wimbledon just around the corner and after my earlier post featuring 1970s Wimbledon icon Bjorn Borg I thought I'd post this cover of the Radio Times from Wimbledon 1977 featuring Sue Barker who was beaten in the semis by American Ann Kiyomura-Hayashi.
David Wilkie MBE was born in Sri Lanka, the offspring of Scottish parents who were stationed in that country.
He was a pupil of Daniel Stewart's College in Edinburgh, and while a student there he joined the Warrender Baths Club, one of Scotland's most prestigious swimming and water polo clubs. It was there that he began to develop his specialist stroke, the breaststroke.
Wilkie first came to the public's attention when he won bronze in front of his home crowd in the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh in the 200 metre breaststroke.
He wore a swim cap for that event during the commonwealth games, making him the first elite swimmer to wear one in a major competition.
Wilkie's world breakthrough came as a surprise to many when he won silver in the 200 m breaststroke at the Munich Olympics in 1972. He had acquired the reputation of avoiding hard work and not being sufficiently committed. However, it was clear from this performance that he had outstanding natural ability.
He trained hard in Florida, and his battle with Hencken was revisited again and again in various meets over the years. In that time Wilkie had won the World 200m breaststroke title in 1973, before breaking the world record and regaining the title in 1975. He also picked up two golds and one silver at the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch in 1974, and added the European title to his collection.
However, it was after several years of intensive training, at the University of Miami, that Wilkie's finest hour came. He won gold in the 200 metre breaststroke at the Montreal Olympics in 1976, in a world-record time and preventing an American Sweep of the Men's swimming gold medals. He later added a 100 metre silver medal to his collection. In 1977 he was appointed MBE.
According to the British Olympic coach Dave Haller, Hencken was always more likely to be stronger over 100m, as his rapid arm movements were more suited to a sprint race, while Wilkie’s longer, more rhythmic strokes meant he was fancied over the longer distance. As it turned out, it was honours even for the pair. Hencken, as expected, triumphed in the shorter race, squeezing Wilkie into second, earning the Scot his second Olympic silver medal.
Wednesday, 30 May 2012
Kermit calls the Secret Service to hire real spies for Roger's closing number. (They're listed in the Yellow Pages.) However, Roger wants to do a cute, cuddly version of "Talk to the Animals". The spies, anxious for a chance to rub out James Bond, pose as fluffy animals to infiltrate the number in this the final Muppet Show from 1980.
Roger Moore arrives and Pops instantly recognizes him as James Bond. Roger points out that secret agents and spies are "all make believe." Once Roger has departed, "Agent" Pops calls for control to inform them that "007" has arrived. Roger catches Pops in the middle of his call, and demands to know who this "agent" is working for. "The frog! The frog!" Pops calls out. Roger releases Pops when he reveals that he too is working for "the frog."
"The Muppet Show theme. Gonzo's trumpet sounds like a coach's whistle, and so a soccer ball is thrown at him, pushing the trumpet down his throa.
For the opening number, a group of Viking pigs (described as "gentle, quaint, fun-loving old charmers" at the insistence of The Swedish Chef sing "In The Navy" as they pillage a coastal town.
Backstage,Scooter and Beauregard show Kermit the pies they got for the closing number. Kermit corrects them, he wantedspies for the closing number, as it was to be James Bond-themed. When he tells them to toss the pies away, Beauregard takes him literally and tosses his entire tray. Kermit is hit with one of the flying desserts.
Miss Piggy sings a flirtatious "On a Slow Boat to China" to Roger. Roger protests, claiming he is not Piggy's type, but she continues to woo him. The song is ended shortly before Roger's date arrives, and it is none other than Piggy's rival, Annie Sue. Roger reveals that they are going to the opening of Hamlet..
As Roger returns backstage, he stops to ask Kermit if they use pies on the show. "Spies?" Kermit asks. But Roger actually does mean pies for he's just "trod in one."
Lew Zealand and his singing fish sing a wet version of "You Light Up My Life" until he's pulled offstage by Piggy's Vaudevillian Hook.
Backstage, Piggy and Lew duke it out with hook and barracuda. Piggy insists the show have more class than Lew's fish act. When Lew has chased Miss Piggy off stage with Fred (the barracuda), Roger Moore approaches Kermit to ask if the show is always filled with such craziness. Kermit tells him that they're actually having a rather quiet night with no unforeseen disasters. Kermit is then instantly trampled by the cast of Vet's Hospital... but that was a foreseen disaster.
Dr Bob and his crew operate on a Viking from the opening number. He talks of his ancestor, the Viking, who "blundered at his plundering and was stupid with his pillaging." Dr. Bob ends the sketch with a new take on Roy Rogers trademark sign-off: "Good night, and may the good Lord take a Viking to you!"
Kermit calls the secret service for a bunch of spies. They arrive in an instant! When asked how he got the secret service's number, Kermit reveals that it was in the Yellow Pages. Kermit then explains that he was looking for spies for their closing number, a big spy spectacular featuring James Bond. At the mention of James Bond's name, the spies are all too eager to perform, or rather to "fix him."
When Kermit tries to tell Roger about the closing number, Roger reveals that he will be performing a "cute" number, surrounded by "oodles of cute, fluffy little creatures." The spies overhear this information, and since they are masters of disguise, dress up as cute, fluffy animals.
Muppet News flash. The News Man reports on an international spy ring trying to sneak ridiculous stories into the news. His very next news story is on a black and yellow striped mackerel being elected King. The Newsman doesn't believe it, of course, until the King arrives.
Kermit informs Scooter that the spies of snuck in amongst the animals. Scooter announces to the animals, "There are no spies in the closing number! Spies go home!" But no one does go home.
Roger sings "Talk to the Animals" in the closing number, but is forced to fight numerous spies when they try to assassinate him during the song with appropriately changed lyrics for the situation. Roger comes out victorious, and the animals rejoice.
At the closing, Roger informs Kermit that he has learned his lesson. He's through with "cute, cuddly little animals," and will instead stick to the "sick, weird, disgusting animals" that he trusts.
Jimmy Edwards, comedy actor and script writer, was surprised byEamonn Andrews at the BBC’s Piccadilly 1 Studio. Jimmy is perhaps best known as Pa Glum in BBC radio’s Take ItFrom Here and as the headmaster ‘Professor’ in BBC TV’s Whack-O.
This account of Jimmy Edwards This Is Your Life is taken fromGus Smith’s biography of Eamonn Andrews...When Eamonn was asked for hisdefinition of the ideal Life subject, he said thoughtfully, ‘The basicrequirement is a good story, a varied story, and if you can add to that apleasant, bubbling personality then you have something else going.’ He could not have looked for a more bubblingsubject than comedian Jimmy Edwards. Regarded as a larger-than-life individual,and a healthy mocker of false emotions, he posed an undoubted challenge toEamonn. Would the presenter try to match his ebullience? Or would he be contentto stick to his script and let the irrepressible Edwards poke his wicked funwithout provoking him?
The comedian had been born in Barnes in 1920 and served as apilot in the war with the RAF and was awarded the DGFC. It was a gamble whetherhe would become a school teacher or go on the stage. Deciding on the stage, in1946 he made his debut at London’ Windmill Theatre, the famous training groundfor most of the country’s comics. However, it was in the radio series Take ItFrom Here that he eventually made his name. Eamonn made no secret of the factthat he was a fan of the programme.
It was now 1958. Jimmy Edwards was being described as ‘a gruffbachelor, whose prowess on the hunting, shooting and polo fields were as wellknown as the shape of his moustache.’ When not working, he liked to retire tohis 400-acre farm in Sussex and keep an eye on the dairy herd and horses. The fun began as Eamonn led the comic,protesting loudly, to the stage of the Shepherd’s Bush Theatre. As his friendsin the business were paraded before him, Edwards ran his fingers lightlythrough his moustache and poked fun at all and sundry. Eamonn kept resolutelyto his prepared script and refused to be drawn into verbal combat. It seemedthe only course he could take, otherwise his words would be lost in the welterof audience laughter. Meanwhile, thereal drama was taking place behind the scenes. The Life team had been experiencing considerable trouble in locatingJimmy Edwards’ sister in Australia, but eventually contacted her. When theyexplained to her the reason for the call, she said enthusiastically, ‘I’d loveto be a guest in the show. I know Jimmy would love it also. But how do I getover at such short notice?
‘We’ll fly you over.’ The Life researcher told her. It meantsome hectic, last-minute flight arrangements, and when she eventually arrivedit was only hours before the show, or just enough time for flowers to bedelivered to her hotel room in Lancaster Gate. When Eamonn introduced her atthe climax of the show there was spontaneous applause from the audience. EvenJimmy, a compulsive talker, was almost lost for words. At the outset, he said he had anticipated aprogramme of such sentimental impact that there wouldn’t be a dry eye betweenLand’s End and Val Parnell. He was wrong. As one critic observed, ‘There wereno dry eyes last night. They were wet with laughter.’ And he added, ‘Edwardsmade wicked fun of Andrews. Andrews, playing himself, saw his programme rippedto shreds.’ Leslie Jackson disagreed. He felt that Eamonn, as presenter of theshow, coped admirably with the comedian’s non-stop wise-cracking. ‘It was a funprogramme and Eamonn helped to make it so by refusing to take on Jimmy.’
Off-stage, Eamonn and Jimmy were friends. Eamonn, a radio man tohis finger tips, admired the comedian’s technique and how he disguised it socleverly behind his large moustache. To radio listeners he came across, as onecritic put it, ‘with the subtlety of a battering ram, flattening resistance andsweeping the audience on wave after wave of hilarity,’ but to Eamonn, Jimmyknew how to make an audience laugh and sound extremely funny on radio.
They called him the ice man, but there was so much more to Björn Borg than cool detachment and a wispy beard. Thirty Two years after the Swede's last and greatest Wimbledon triumph and with Wimbledon just around the corner,I offer a remarkable portrait of the rebellious teenager who became an accidental Nordic mystic - and an all-time great.
Tuesday, 29 May 2012
This article was printed in the Daily Express on May 12th this year and sees former Street Legend Jean Alexander (Hilda Ogden) speaking out on the shite that is today's Coronation Street..
Hilda Ogden left Coronation Street 25 years ago singing “Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye” in her trilling, trademark voice. It was Christmas Day, 1987, and it remains the most watched episode in the soap’s history. As Hilda left to start a new life in Derbyshire a record 27 million tuned in to wave her off.
Now, as a new musical about Britain’s longest-running TV soap opera hit the stage in Manchester Arena this week, veteran actress Jean Alexander, who played Hilda for 23 years, wishes the show well – but won’t be going to see it. Street Of Dreams, hosted by Paul O’Grady, brings together stars of the show, past and present, in an all- singing, all-dancing celebration of the soap’s history and unforgettable characters, with cast members such as Julie Goodyear (Bet Lynch), William Roache (Ken Barlow) and Kevin Kennedy (Curly Watts) recreating their iconic roles.
But not Jean Alexander. “I am afraid I shall miss the show,” she said from her home in Southport. “It would mean trains, taxis and a night in a hotel... Not much fun these days.” At 85, after 61 years as an actress, she says: “I’m tired. That’s why I am announcing I am officially retired. All my life I have rushed around to fit in with other people’s schedules. Now I can suit myself.” Suiting herself won’t mean watching nightly episodes of Coronation Street. She’s no longer a big fan because she says it has lost its way from the days when it represented a gritty northern back street.. CORONATION Street, she says, has sold its soul to sex: “Everyone in the Street seems to be having an affair. Some of them have been round the Street four times already. “I cannot comment on East- Enders because I never watch it but I am so disappointed in Coronation Street. In the relentless battle for ratings it has sold its soul to sex, scandal and downright nastiness. “Things have to move on, I know, but in the days of Hilda Ogden, Annie Walker and Co, the Street was gentle, funny and human. The humour has all but gone out of it these days.
“We had a lot of fun making Coronation Street and the fans let us know they had fun watching it. There were heartbreaking moments but we also tried to make people laugh. “Today it’s all sex, doom and gloom and it’s all taken far too seriously.
“The Street always tried to be relevant to the way people lived, especially in a northern working-class district.
Nowadays I suppose it still reflects what is going on because life seems to be all about titillation in a world where kids grow up at 10 or 11. Perhaps that is why they all have to behave like that in the soaps.” Jean cannot name many of the actors in the Street, nor does she know much about the plotlines because she tunes in only about once a month.
Of all the “newcomers”, Jean is most impressed with Jennie McAlpine, who has played Fiz Brown (now Fiz Stape) since 2001. Jean says Jennie, a Greater Manchester lass and one- time stand-up comedian, would have fitted nicely into the Street in the days of Hilda Ogden. “She has that northern grit and the original elbows out, hands-on-hip attitude. She’s a tough cookie. She is a real character and very noticeable. The characters are missing from Coronation Street these days,” she says.
Of all today’s TV soaps Jean reckons Emmerdale has remained most true to its roots. “It is far more gentle and set in lovely countryside. The characters are more lifelike and they are not always going over the top. I love Emmerdale.”
But her favourite programme is Midsomer Murders because, she says, there’s less violence than in Coronation Street or EastEnders!
Jean Alexander has not worked since Last Of The Summer Wine ended in 2010. For 20 years she played Auntie Wainwright, a role she loved and a character she far preferred to Hilda Ogden. “She was my favourite so I reckon I ended on a high,” says Jean.
The woman who won the heart of the nation as the curlers-and-head- scarf-wearing Hilda Ogden is still remarkably modest about her amazing success, even though she has sacrificed her personal life to her career. Jean Alexander has never married, still lives in the mod- est semi-detached home she bought with her late mum and only recently bought a DVD player. She has never driven or owned a car and one of her biggest indulgences is to take a taxi back from her local supermarket in Southport on her twice-weekly shopping expeditions. “I do get the bus there, though,” she says.
She has won five major awards – including a TV Times award for All Time Favourite Soap Star – and performed before the Queen during her Silver Jubilee in 1977. And though in her stage career she was sick with fright before every performance it was receiving awards that struck her with terror.
“That is because I was going out there as myself. I had no character to hide behind and I had to make up my own speech. I didn’t have someone else’s script to rely on,” she says.
But she is still recognised and stopped in the street by fans, though nowadays the reactions are less violent. “I have been battered black and blue by excited women who’ve pinned me against a supermarket market shelf shrieking, ‘It’s you, it’s you, isn’t it?’ These days people don’t ask for autographs, they ask if they can be photographed with me on their mobile phones.
“I don’t mind a bit as long as I am not eating a meal in a restaurant. It was the fans who made me what I am today and I owe them a great deal. So I have always tried to make time for them.”
She also receives regular fan mail from around the world, mainly because of re-runs of Last Of The Summer Wine in various countries.
One of her latest “fan” letters came from Ghana: “Dear Jean, I am a great fan of your music. I would love to attend the London Olympics. Please send me return airfare and provide food and accommodation as well as Olympic tickets... ” It’s one of the few letters she will not be replying to. So how will she spend her retirement? “Doing my own thing. No more traipsing down to a studio at 6am and spending hours being tarted up. I’ve enjoyed my career but it’s been long and hard. It’s left me tired so I think it’s time to take it easy.”
Sunday, 27 May 2012
Forget the laughter. It was the tears, a trickle of real grief, that announced a new kind of comedy on television half a century ago. One Friday evening in January 1962, an episode of the BBC’s Comedy Playhouse series changed the face of sitcom for ever. Previous shows in the series, by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, had featured comedians such as Eric Sykes and Stanley Baxter. This episode was different: it starred two theatre actors, one a veteran of provincial rep, the other a devotee of the Method School of acting. Wilfrid Brambell and Harry H. Corbett were cast as father and son, scraping a living from the rubbish people threw out, surviving on cold, tinned food and the dregs of bottles they collected from behind restaurants. They wore rags salvaged from the bags of clothes they picked up on their rounds, traipsing the streets of London with a horse and cart.
At the beginning of the Sixties, when Kennedy was U.S. President and the British had ‘never had it so good’, there was no future for the rag ’n’ bone man. And Corbett’s character knew it: he had to escape from the junkyard and his drunken, idle father. But he had nowhere to go. The final, achingly poignant scene has Corbett straining between the shafts of the cart, desperate to drag his possessions away from the ‘rathole’ where he was born. The cart is too heavy to move, and his father refuses to let him borrow the horse. Slowly, Corbett breaks down, screwing up his face and sobbing, then throwing himself face forward on the cart. ‘We couldn’t believe what we were seeing,’ Galton says, 50 years on. ‘I nudged Alan and told him: “Those are genuine tears. He’s really crying!” We were used to comics who would turn their backs and shake their shoulders, boo-hoo-hoo.’ The BBC commissioned a series, Steptoe And Son, based on this pilot. The first run, in the summer of 1962, was so popular the six episodes were immediately repeated. Galton and Simpson were in Spain working on a movie script, when Corbett flew out to see them. ‘It’s incredible,’ he told them. ‘We’ve started a national sensation!’
[Popular: Writers and Creators of the BBC series Ray Galton, left, and Alan Simpson, right.]
Steptoe And Son laid the rules for all the best sitcoms over the next decades. Its characters were trapped by their own flaws, convinced they were born for better things, but doomed to repeat their mistakes. Harold Steptoe could barely read, yet he longed to be an intellectual, a boulevardier. Instead, he had to look after the one person he despised most, his dad.
One early Steptoe episode shows Harold returning from the rounds to find his father soaking in a tin bath in front of the fire, his dinner balanced on his knees. ‘I got a bird coming round tonight,’ protests the younger man, and Albert smirks: he knows; that’s why he’s doing it.
‘You shouldn’t be eating your dinner in the bath,’ Harold scolds him. ‘Whichever way you look at it, to fish pickled onions out of your bath and put them back in the jar is an act of extreme dirtiness.’ Their antagonism reaches its highest pitch in perhaps the best-loved episode, Divided We Stand, where they build a plywood wall through their house and hurl insults over it. Even then, they can’t escape from each other — a kitchen fire starts, and they end up in hospital beds, side by side. Their fates and their flaws have twisted them together.
Count how many times, and in how many ways, that set-up has been mirrored in Britain’s favourite comedies. Dad’s Army’s Captain Mainwaring, desperate for respect but always feeling inferior to his deputy bank manager, the public school-educated Sgt Wilson; Basil Fawlty, loathing the wife who keeps him cringeing under her thumb. Del Boy, forever promising he’ll be a millionaire ‘this time next year’, though he knows he’ll never be anything but a small-time crook and David Brent, who tries to disguise his incompetence with jokes and jargon, and cannot quite grasp why his staff detest him. Sometimes the claustrophobia is real, like Fletch’s prison cell in Porridge or Father Ted’s island priest-hole. Sometimes it is self-imposed, like the Royle family’s living room. And sometimes it’s all in the mind, like Victor Meldrew’s persecution complex.
These situations are tragic, not funny. They are rooted in poverty, crime, age, class, greed and lack of education. So why do we laugh? When TV comedy started, it was modelled on the variety acts of the music halls. Galton and Simpson were 21-year-old novice gag-writers, friends who had spent their teens in a sanatorium recovering from tuberculosis, when they were hired by BBC radio to script comedy hours for the Light Programme.
They had a radical ambition, which they shared with comedian Tony Hancock — to create hilarious shows with no stand-up jokes, no punchlines, no silly voices, no guest stars and no sketches . . . just a single storyline with believable characters. All the comedy would be in the situation. They worked with Hancock for seven years — more than 100 radio episodes of Hancock’s Half Hour, 60 TV shows and a movie — before the comedian split from them, years later committing suicide. The BBC’s head of entertainment, Tom Sloan, was determined not to lose his star writers and made them an astonishing proposition. If they agreed to write a series of short comic plays, they could pick any subjects they wanted, hire any actors they liked, be the directors or even the stars if they felt like it.
‘That’s how Comedy Playhouse started,’ Simpson says today. ‘No other TV writers had ever been given such freedom, and I’m sure it could never happen now.’ W hen they han-ded the Playhouse concept over to other comedy writers, two years later, the series became a launchpad for great sitcoms, including Last Of The Summer Wine, The Liver Birds and Are You Being Served?
Its most controversial success was Till Death Us Do Part. The star was a bigoted, foul-mouthed, bullying racist called Alf Garnett, who became one of TV’s most perversely popular characters. Alan Simpson believes personalities such as Alf, or Albert Steptoe, spring from the same collective British consciousness that supplied the best-loved names in literature: ‘Dickens knew how to write characters with deep human failings who were unforgettably comic: Uriah Heep, Fagin, Mrs Gamp, Scrooge.’
Classical sources or not, the new wave of radical Sixties sitcom upset a lot of people. Mary Whitehouse, the self-appointed guardian of public morals, sued Till Death’s writer, Johnny Speight (he had called her a fascist). Steptoe went one better — questions were asked in the Commons after the B-word was broadcast in an episode about a piano. Harold and Albert are summoned to a penthouse to collect a baby grand. It’s too wide and heavy to remove. In the end, Harold declares: ‘What goes up can bleedin’ well stay up!’ Dr Donald Johnson, Tory MP for Carlisle, complained about this offensive ‘expletive’ and asked for the government to take action to ensure it was never broadcast again.
The Speaker, Sir Harry Hylton-Foster, ruled that no explanation could be forthcoming because it would involve ‘unparliamentary language’. Compare that to today, where the grossness of the language is the sum total of much that passes for comedy. Old Man Steptoe’s non-stop rants offended some because they highlighted how deeply injustice still ran in post-war Britain. Watch Inbetweeners or Benidorm and you’ll hunt in vain for a political point. The brand of intelligent comedy they pioneered is rare now, but Ray Galton, 81, and Alan Simpson, 82, are still around. They meet every Monday to drink coffee and swap stories. ‘We complement each other,’ Alan says. ‘He helps me up stairs, and I tell him what day it is.’ Ray grins, and puffs on his roll-up. ‘That’s fine, but he still thinks George V is on the throne.’ They both chuckle. Clearly, comedy writers might grow old but they never grow up.