Monday, 18 August 2014

Edinburgh Fringe Blog 2014

It's that time again! Yes - me actually writing a blog!  I remember the good old days when I'd churn these out all the time.  Then I changed jobs and bought a flat and found I'd rather spend time off sobbing in a darkened room.  But now, it's that time again - we've been back to the Fringe for our third visit, which means another blog chewing over who we saw.  In our four days in Edinburgh we saw fifteen shows, and here is what me - and 'er indoors - thought of them.

Sunday

1. Holly Walsh: Never Had It
Our first show and...probably the best!  Holly has become an effortlessly brilliant comedian, and this show is based around her opinion that not only has she not "still got it", she "never had it".  To illustrate this point she asks the audience whether certain people have "got it".  Barack Obama has clearly "got it". David Cameron has not "got it".  Gary Barlow "didn't have it, then he got it, but is now being forced to give it back".  We simply loved this show, the only problem being that everything after this point was an anti-climax. 



2. Nick Doody vs The Debonair Assassin
Free Fringe!  And only the second show.  In the two years since we were last in town the Free Fringe has gone from something akin to the consolation prize for not being able to sell tickets to a considerable behemoth, beginning to rival the Pleasance/Assembly/Underbelly/Gilded Balloon four-headed monster for bums-on-seats.  Some acts have begun to complain of a "squeezed middle" between the Free Fringe and the bigger name paid-for acts and it's not hard to see there being a problem in years to come with many punters simply refusing to take the financial risk of a paid show any longer.  Nick was OK. 

3. Tom Price: Not As Nice As He Looks
Thanks to Mr Doody overrunning we arrived at this one slightly late.  We legged it up the hill to the Pleasance and arrived a few minutes late to be warmly welcomed as audience members 11 and 12 to Tom's show.  You'll mainly recognise Tom as PC Andy from Torchwood but he's also an accomplished stand-up comedian who performs a very warm show...trying to defuse the myth that he's a nice guy.  And, to try and atone for an earlier screw-up at a family wedding, I ended up being re-married to another audience member.  My first night in Edinburgh and already a bigamist.

Monday

4. Bec Hill in...Ellipsis
One of Kate's recommendations, so over to her:

I found Bec's videos on digital video website 'The YouTubes' and was very impressed with her animation/songs/general comedy. Her set was a combination of stand-up, audience participation and live animation, and I felt she was strongest when she could revert to her marvellous drawings (and probably a blessed bit of relief to have the spotlight on something else after a pretty relentless hour).

The stand up became quite patchy in places (the 'tedious puns' section dragging on 10 times longer than it really needed to) and the varied ways of performing sometimes felt like a burst of creativity fizzling into too many things because of an overall lack of confidence in most/all of them. No doubt she's ridiculously talented, but want to fast forward a few years when she's really honed her craft.


5. Iain Stirling: Everything
Last time around Iain was in a room no bigger than his former berth of the CBBC Office.  His star has grown somewhat since then and he effortlessly filled a much larger room this time around.  His confidence has grown too and his hour felt a lot edgier than the show we saw two years ago.  Apart from an awkward few minutes on politics it's a really good hour that is largely centred around being dumped by his long-term girlfriend.  Stirling touches on the pain of maintaining his kids' TV alter-ego to great effect in this section ("what's that Hacker?  She took the house?") and at only 26 it'll be interesting to see what angle his future career takes.

6. Frank Skinner: Man in a Suit
Rather unusually we decided to see a "name" in one of the biggest Fringe audiences we've ever been in, as Frank Skinner performed his first Edinburgh show in seven years.  Clearly his audience has aged somewhat since the Fantasy Football heyday and it was a rather silver crowd we were sat amongst.  The £17 ticket price is offset somewhat by the 90 minute duration, although you feel that the show could easily have been pruned to an hour.  Despite this, a good opportunity to see a real master at work.

7. Richard Herring: Lord of the Dance Settee
As much as we love the output of Richard Herring it's hard not to feel that it's time he took a break, and after his incredible volume of output of the last half-decade he perhaps deserves it.  Although an enjoyable hour, long-term Herring fans will recognise a number of routines from this "new" show, including his teenage trip to heckle Ted Rogers and the Dance Settee of the title, dating back to Fist of Fun in the mid-90s.  As enjoyable as the show - his eleventh in as many years - is, it does feel slightly like a greatest hits tour to those of us who've been there the whole way.  Given the surprise twist at the end of the show, it seems that Herring may finally take the leave from the Fringe he seems to threaten every year - but it sounds like he'll need it...

Tuesday

8. Bridget Christie: An Ungrateful Woman
Zzzzz.  Not the show, but the staging at 11.10am, which at the Fringe is roughly equivalent to 6.30am, given you're rarely in bed before 1am.  This start time is partly due to the in-demand slots at The Stand comedy club, but also apparently due to Christie sharing parenting duties with her husband Stewart Lee - who performs in the same room later that day.  Anyway, Bridget's star is growing so we ended up standing up for the show at this ungodly hour, such is her popularity.  Here's Kate again:

Bridget was back back BACK after her award-winning show 'A Bic For Her' with 'yet another' hour of stand-up about feminism. I understand Bridget really broke into the mainstream last year but found this whole part of the set a bit strange. Wasn't 2012's 'War Donkey' about feminism? Wasn't 2010's 'A Ant' about feminism (well, the lack of female comics at least)? I feel this does a bit of a disservice to her earlier work which was really fucking good. This was the best show we'd seen so far for a gloriously complex bit of standup, but I found one of the central themes (about her audition for a Muller advert) particularly lacking, and her returning to it again and again started to grate. The rest was very good though, mainly the yoghurty-based bits stopped it being a stand out show.

(I must caveate I was in a massive grump at this show because it was raining, I was hungover and forced to stand for the hour because The Stand doesn't have enough bloody seats and the audience was a load of cagoule-wearing Radio 4 listeners who probably arrive an hour early for every show at the Festival and nick all the chairs in the process.)


9. Frisky and Mannish: Just Too Much
Frisky and Mannish are now staging their sixth consecutive show at the Fringe.  You probably know by now what they do - very slickly staged shows parodying and deconstructing pop music.  And although this latest offering doesn't really do anything new, they do it so so well and with so much enthusiasm and professionalism it's hard to complain.  Both are hugely talented and clearly obsessed with pop music that it doesn't matter so much that it doesn't break any new ground.  You'll struggle to have more fun in an hour at the Fringe. 

10. Josh Widdicombe's XFM Show Live!
Josh is effortlessly funny.  We went to see his live show in Harrogate in May and he makes it look so easy.  Naturally we were keen to see him in Edinburgh, but unfortunately his only appearance was a few nights of his "XFM Show Live".  Of course, we've never heard this before, so we weren't expecting much especially after being told in the queue by a fruity young XFM intern "it's full of in-jokes".  In fact it was a fairly entertaining ninety minutes, mainly carried by Josh's guests it has to be said, on a rather inevitable panel of seven male and mostly white men.  And we got an XFM pen out of it. 

Wednesday

11. Matt Forde: 24 Hour Political Party People
Hmm.  We saw this on impulse at the Pleasance, thinking we might like a bit of political comedy.  And although there was nothing specifically wrong with it, it just wasn't...funny enough.  Although clearly blessed with a slight talent for impersonations, it's perhaps not the best idea to constantly use these sometimes slightly ropey impersonations as part of the jokes for the entire show.  An edge was added by Forde almost losing it when someone's phone went off - admittedly bad form but normally dealt with using a bit more humour and less genuine annoyance.  The finale was a cringeworthy version of YMCA re-styled as "UK MPs", which was about as funny as it sounds. 

12. Christian Reilly: Lost in Music
Christian has a long association with Richard Herring and it was on his podcast As It Occurs To Me that we first discovered Christian's comedy songs.  Another Free Fringe show, Christian managed to fill a not inconsiderable room on a drizzly Wednesday night.  Although the material perhaps stretched at a full hour, it's great to see Reilly's appeal broadening out to a wider audience.

13. WitTank: Old School Secrets
We saw WitTank for the first time two years ago - and although the name still makes me cringe they're very much emerging from the shadow of Pappy's to become a very slick, confident and funny outfit.  As with Pappy's Last Show Ever this year's show, although still sketch-based, is all linked around a single narrative, and all the better for it.  You'll never see Shania Twain in the same way again.

14. BBC Radio nan Gaidheal
This year's "sort of" show entry.  We spent a while in the BBC Fringe area, and out time coincided with a session for Radio nan Gaidheal or "Radio Nan" as Kate insisted on calling it.  It was a Gaelic music set, with a surprising amount of English being spoken.  Hey-ho.  I wrote two years ago about how good it was the Beeb have got involved in the Fringe so much in recent years, but it seems to have got a little out of hand this year.  Various programmes found themselves presenting special editions from the BBC tent seemingly for no other reason than they could (Newsnight? The One Show? Rasta Mouse?).  The nadir was undoubtedly encouraging people to watch The Great British Bake Off on the big screen - surely the modern day spirit of the Fringe.

15. Charlie Sloth presents Hip Hop Comedy
Our last show was another freebie - yep, we were skint - and a surprisingly good effort from BBC Radio 1Xtra's Charlie Sloth.  Kate and I are about as urban as PJ & Duncan, but despite this enjoyed the various turns.  Here's Kate's write-up:

So we headed into the Radio 4 tent for our last show at the Fringe, and managed to sneak into 'Hip Hop Comedy' about 30 seconds before it was due to start. This was hosted by Charlie Sloth, and the audience was more Gardeners' Question Time than 1Xtra gig, particularly at the front (who presumably were sitting through everything in order to see free stuff, tight gits). God, I really felt for the acts! A highlight was Mark Grist (because the bonus of my job is I get paid to watch Don't Flop Rap Battles so I was a squealing fangirl).

But the standout was Lolly Adefope. She came on stage doing character comedy, a Manc working in admin at a construction firm. It produced a very weird reaction in that largely everyone thought she was very funny, but there were about 20 people in the audience (myself included) that found it A Very Very Funny Thing Indeed and were crying with laughter. It was just one of the most perfectly pitched, beautifully executed bits of comedy that I've seen. There was then a lovely atmosphere in the tent of 'shit, this woman is extremely talented and I get to say that I saw her first.' Can't wait to see what she does next.


And that's it!  We love our biennial Fringe visits so much that we rather rashly decided on the last night we'd rather not wait two years till the next time.  Better get saving then.  See you next August!

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Blog Gold: Dr No

So it seems I haven't posted here for over three months.  Hello!  Hope you enjoyed the summer.  Thanks to a new role at work and the small matter of buying a flat (more on that story later) I seem to have forgotten to write anything.  Or not had any time to do so.  So, until I get round to it, here's a blog I wrote two years ago but never published - partly because I wasn't confident enough at the time in what I was saying, partly because I just couldn't be arsed arguing the point with those who disagreed (and there were many).  But reading it again it it's worth publishing from a historical viewpoint, and certainly as a (somewhat downbeat) way of linking into Doctor Who's 50th anniversary in a few weeks' time.  I wrote this in October 2011, shortly after transmission of The Wedding of River Song.  And given the intervening period, the first line is especially prophetic!  Enjoy...

First off, a bit of time travel.

I became interested in Doctor Who after the 1996 TV Movie, which really caught the imagination of the twelve-year-old me, if not the US audience it was aimed at.  With the help of the Radio Times supplement I became interested in the rest of the series, and picked up some cheap VHS releases from our local Co-op.  The first full story I bought was The Dominators so it's nothing short of a miracle I came back for more (not really - The Dominators is amazing, everyone who says it isn't it mistaken!).

The next four years were spent buying the videos, reading the magazine, getting my poor Uncle to tape episodes from UK Gold on Sunday mornings and nagging parents to take me to the Llangollen exhibition.  By 2000 however my interest had started to wane - partly due to running out of material to watch, partly due to it being a bit of a depressing time to be a fan (a run of repeats was curtailed due to low ratings), partly due to being completely uninterested in the audio stories which had just been launched and were being heavily hyped, but probably mainly because I was getting older and perhaps "growing out of it".  My interest was reignited a few years later by the superb DVD range, which was just getting going in 2003 and contained much on the making of the show, as well as clips from the likes of Blue Peter and Breakfast Time.  I'd always been as interested in the making of the show as the show itself, and luckily enough shortly after this came the announcement that the show was to return to TV.

Like millions of others I've watched every week since that relaunch in March 2005 (you can see Kate and I reviewing the return of the show on YSTV here from 7.30 in - don't be too alarmed that I appear to be attached to a cable - it's my mic lead, I don't run off mains power).  There have been good episodes and bad episodes in the years since but as a whole it's been a pretty brilliant series.  Along with the X Factors and Strictlys of the world it has helped to bring the family audience back to Saturday nights and paved the way for the likes of Robin Hood, Merlin and Primeval to do a similar thing.

But I've a confession to make.  The most recent run just hasn't worked for me.  I've tried to like it, I really have, and having had it signposted from the start that the storyline would run through the entire series I've waited until the end before writing this.  It's been remarked upon numerous times in the press that the storylines have become "too complicated".  I don't think it's necessarily that they're too complicated, more that you begin to tire after a while of the trick of witholding the facts just to string you out through the series.  That's not sophisticated storytelling, that's just the dramatic equivalent of saying "I know something you don't know".  It didn't work for Lost and it certainly doesn't work for Doctor Who.  Dramatic tension is now almost entirely centered around revealing the solution to topsy-turvy plotlines.  It's also become a bit obsessed with itself.  Too many stories are about how much of a legend the Doctor is, about Amy and Rory doing something or other we don't care about, and River Sodding Song turning up every five minutes to phone in another pantomime-esque performance.  Everything else seems incidental. 

Splitting the series into two - assuming it wasn't to account for delays in the production of the programme, as has been reported - was also a bad move.  The first half of the series accelerated towards an artificial climax halfway through, towards the big revelation - River is Amy and Rory's daughter!  Um, OK.  Now Melody has been kidnapped and we've got to find her.  Except, we haven't, because she's there, fully grown and fine.  Then after the break, the storyline seemed to be completely forgotten for a few episodes with Amy and Rory not seeming at all concerned at the disappearance of their daughter.  It's rumoured that A Good Man Goes To War was originally intended to go much nearer the end of the run (which makes sense given the lack of references to it's events in much of the second half of the series), and that the decision to split the series into two led to it being pulled forward to create a cliffhanger climax.  All in all, a bit of a mess.  The best episodes this series - The Doctor's Wife, The Girl Who Waited and Closing Time - were all the most continuity-lite stories, and were all the better for it.

But it's not just the episodes themselves.  There seems to be a slightly grouchy element to the series and it's defenders at the moment.  Those complaining about the storylines are more or less told that it's they who have the problem and they should keep up.  The days of Russell T Davies jovially dismissing problems seem long gone.  This is matched by some of the writers and "super-fans" on Twitter who seem to have forgotten the concept of an "opinion".  The aggressive reaction to the Private Eye story (which incidentally appears to have been mostly true) shows that they're completely unwilling to tolerate any criticism of the show - a big turnaround from the early days of the relaunch when the success of the show was never assumed to be guaranteed.

This is shown by the constant harping about the ratings by the programme's cheerleaders.  The second half of the current series has been beaten by ITV1 a number of times on overnight ratings, first of all by the launch of Red Or Black.  When it emerged that the game show had beaten the good Doctor, the vitriol poured on the show and it's viewers on Twitter and the forums was quite unprecedented.  And for what?  That show had a hell of a lot of publicity - yours truly was heavily involved in the countdown clock that kept popping up on ITV1 in the days prior to launch - so is it any surprise that quite a few people wanted to see what it was all about?  Was there any benefit to all the energy poured on rubbishing it when it is very unlikely to run for the 48 years Doctor Who has and certainly not endeared itself in the same way?

More worrying was the show being beaten a couple of times by All Star Family Fortunes in the overnights.  For all that Doctor Who eventually regained the lead thanks to a hefty amount of people watching their recordings later in the week, that shouldn't be happening, and anyone who says they aren't bothered by it should be.  The BBC brought the show back to get a big family audience all watching TV on a Saturday night, and talking about it in the playground or around the watercooler on Monday morning.  If the storylines have got to the point where you don't mind catching up at a late date rather than watching the instant it is available and are watching Vernon Kay instead, then we're in trouble.  The idea that the figures for the programme should include iPlayer viewings and BBC Three repeats, as some are suggesting, is ridiculous - how on earth can you ascertain how many of those people are not watching for a second time?  Probably trying to work out what on earth is going on...

Obviously all of this is my view - there are plenty of people who seem to love the series as it is, and good luck to them.  I just don't feel I'm watching the same show as them.  As things stand we're at a turning point for the show, as the mid-noughties Who empire is this autumn crumbling.  I'd be very surprised if Torchwood returns after the disappointing American seriesThe Sarah Jane Adventures is ending for altogether sadder reasonsConfidential has been axed.  The signs are that the next series of Doctor Who will be spread over a much longer period than the current one.  It's unclear what effect the BBC's cost-cutting will have on the programme (if any).  It seems that the show as a whole will have a smaller prescence on television as it approaches the big 5-0.

(TARDIS sound effect)

So, two years later, how does that sound?  Not far off the mark to be honest.  Series 7 was indeed broadcast over a much longer period, despite vain attempts by the publicity team to convince people that they were two separate series.  This means that since the start of 2011, we've essentially missed out on a whole series of the programme.  This in itself is not necessarily a problem - belts are being tightened all over the BBC and I wouldn't blame them if they wanted to make a very expensive show last a bit longer.  But the complete wall of silence over the reasons - cost or otherwise - doesn't give much encouragement.  

And the show itself?  The first broadcast section of series 7 was a massive improvement, and was actually marketed as five distinct "blockbuster" episodes, all largely self-contained, which was hugely refreshing after the continuity-heavy series 6.  The second part of the run - broadcast six months and one day after the conclusion of the first section - was less sure-footed, featuring a worrying number of "duff" episodes that were so unmemorable I'd struggle, six months on, to tell you anything about them.  One bright part was the introduction of Jenna Coleman as Clara who gave a refreshingly sparky performance, but had some rather patchy character development (and let's not even mention the entirely pointless episode where the children she babysits for are taken on an adventure).

What's rammed the point home for me is re-watching the Russell T Davies years again.  I travel to Leeds for work every week and I'm passing the time on the train by watching episodes from 2005 onwards, in order.  And it's so, so refreshing.  You actually come away from an episode saying "so that's what it was all about" rather than feeling you should have paid more attention at an undefined point in the past to understand it more.  You also have one or maybe two dodgy episodes a series, the rest generally rather good - a statistic that has pretty much reversed in recent years.  Matt Smith is superb but has been given some terrible scripts.  I'm optimistic though - the show has been through peaks and troughs in the past and the prospect of Peter Capaldi as The Doctor is very exciting.  I'm looking forward to the next two landmark episodes: the 50th anniversary and the regeneration from 11 to 12 at Christmas.  I just hope the quality and indeed the scheduling of the series becomes a bit less erratic and I'll be able to write something more positive in 2015!  

Monday, 22 July 2013

Overheard at Latitude


We've just got back from the Latitude Festival in Southwold, Suffolk (yes, I had to look it up too).  Latitude was the first proper festival that either Kate or myself have been to, having previously only been to one-day affairs such as Radio 1's Hackney Weekend.  We figured that with the big 3-0 fast approaching it was high time we crossed this off from the life "to do" list and spent some time slumming it in a field.  Within reason, of course.

We chose Latitude mainly because of the wide variety of entertainment on offer, particularly the comedy.  As we're not going to the Edinburgh Fringe this year we thought it would make a nice substitute.  We're also middle class Guardian-reading north-Londoners so it's pretty much the law that we go to Latitude at some point.  We also chose to stay at the Pink Moon Camping enclosure on the site - not particularly out of a desire the avoid the masses but because we don't own a tent or sleeping bags, and buying them especially would cost a fair chunk of the fee we paid to stay there.  In that nice enclosure with its own toilets, showers and bar.  Mmmmm.
The Pink Moon campsite.  Hundreds of identical tents.  Good luck finding yours after 6 pints of Tuborg.

And guess what - we really enjoyed ourselves, despite the somewhat eccentric weather (scorching sun on Friday, cloud and showers on Saturday and somewhere in between on Sunday).  We loved the huge variety of events on offer and the type of music on offer on the big stages was more-or-less spot on for us.  Having seen a Reading and Leeds 2007 t-shirt while we were there, it could have been so much worse.  I think the 6 Music stage came off quite badly though, among others housing Texas, Rudimental and Disclosure over the weekend, none of whom I imagine trouble the radio station's playlist much.  But for us, the highlight had to be Pappy's, who as in Edinburgh last year stole the show for us with their effortless act.  Unlike many acts they had prepared a special show loosely based around "A Christmas Carol", with spot-on parodies of Florence (without her Machine), Kraftwerk and Daft Punk as the "ghosts".  There was also an amusing amount of scorn poured on the admittedly questionable decision to headline the first night with Bloc Party and the aforementioned Texas, neither of whom are really in their prime.  As Pappy's pointed out, "who's booking this festival, Chris Evans?  Look out for the Ocean Colour Scene secret gig at the i Arena tomorrow!".

I'm not sure it's really a substitute for Edinburgh though, comedy-wise, given how you drift in and out of each of the performances and most of the comics aren't performing a show as such, just a few of their favourite routines to fill the slot.  The comedy arena is no way near big enough either - the moment someone even remotely popular was on you couldn't get near.  There's also the slightly odd decision to end the comedy programme at about 7pm each night to clear the arena for dancing later on - which means a genre mostly performed at night is pushed into random berths such as the literature tent after dark.

There are also two (or more) Latitudes.  There's the one that you'll read about in the Guardian and see on The Andrew Marr Show which is all very cultural and intellectual and so different to those other noisy festivals.  There's also the Latitude which is pretty much like any other festival, complete with people getting stupidly drunk and all sorts else.  I noticed the huge presence of children too.  Some really young ones with their parents, which should really know better carting their sleeping offspring around in little trolleys in order to see late night gigs, others a bit older  let off the leash for the first time pretending rather badly to be grown ups.  And standing around chatting during Kraftwerk, which was pretty damn annoying.  Kraftwerk were another highlight of the weekend - if not exactly the typical headliner - because of the quite impressive 3D effects behind the ground (and the equally impressive distribution of 3D glasses around the site on Saturday.  If you didn't have any you must have been under a rock all day).  Since the heady days of Children In Need 1993 I've experienced various attempts at 3D outside of Hollywood films and this was certainly one of the better ones.

But there was one thing we noticed.  Our positioning in the Pink Moon campsite, on the end of a row, meant we heard a lot of people chatting as they walked past, but usually only a sentence or two of conversations.  Some of these were bizarre to say the least.  Here's a selection with some others we heard around the festival site:

"I like to think of myself as an alcohologist"

"I actually think that not having sex with someone is more powerful than having sex with them"

(in the poshest female voice imaginable) "Find My Friends?  What's my Apple ID?!  Upper or lower case??!!"

"Look at the shower queue now.  Snoozers are losers"

"SHEEP!"

"Order number 118, pick up your burger now or it's going in the bin"

"Is that the shower queue?  Let's just get in it, we'll only sit here talking about the shower queue otherwise"

"I HATE Blackpool"

"Did you snog him?" "I shagged him!"

"I'm talking about the prostitute killer of course, not the Radio 2 DJ"

And finally one we'll nick from Marcus Brigstocke, who said this is the most Latitudey thing he's ever heard said at the festival:

"Oh hi Nigel, anything happened to you lately?"
"No, not really.  Oh no hang on, I've been made chair of the Forestry Commission"


Monday, 27 May 2013

When You're With Me It's Always Summer


I'm starting to type this as we fly to St Lucia on the final leg of our epic honeymoon.  With a mere 8 hours 15 minutes to kill (not including the delay caused by late boarding passenger Alex Fruger, who they had the courtesy to name and shame) it's probably a good time to address mine and Kate's wedding, which took place on 27th April.  I'm now in the position where I feel we've banged on about this for long enough and that we're probably boring people, but in time honoured Jonablog tradition there's probably a blog left to wring out of it before we wrap this one up!



Long-term readers will remember me writing about our engagement nearly two years ago. We knew from the start we'd probably be getting married in Spring 2013, due to needing to save up and us both being quite keen on a Spring wedding.  Despite this I think we both found that first ten months or so a bit of a struggle, and the finger of blame for this can be pointed at Islington Council.  Since she moved to London in August 2005 Kate had always said she wanted to get married at Islington Town Hall, after moving into a flat in the local area and seeing couples emerging from the building when going past on the number 30 bus on a Saturday morning.  Unfortunately for us, the council operates a strict "year in advance policy" which means it is literally impossible to book your ceremony until there is a year or less to go, which in the world of wedding planning is a little restrictive as it means you then can't book anything else for the day until the venue is confirmed.  So we had the best part of a year of being asked "how's the wedding planning going?" with the answer being that it wasn't really going anywhere.



Luckily Kate managed to fill the time with heavily researching anything and everything to do with the wedding.  I was very lucky to have a fiancée who not only had a pretty good idea of what she wanted from the ceremony but also had rather excellent ideas that chimed with my own! I think there must be a gene in women that is unleashed the moment they are proposed to (or in some cases, before...) that contains all this vital information.  Put it this way: I wasn't much use when it came to choosing the "wedding colours".  She also became absorbed into the world of wedding blogs, the modern equivalent of those whacking great glossy bridal magazines, so much so I believe she has now read them all.  There are none left.

 


By the time our preferred date had rolled around (minus a year), we were ready to pounce on Islington and then to book all our suppliers in turn.  Luckily 27th April 2013 at 1pm was free, but I was amazed to find out that when I rang up on 28th April 2012 - ie. one day into the booking window - the midday and 5pm slots had been taken on our chosen day already! So we weren't the only ones.  Now the real prep could begin - and save-the-date cards were sent out at the start of September accordingly, accompanied by some superb artwork by Kate's brother Lee depicting us in the style of Lichenstein.  Full invites followed in January, and I have to give credit to Kate again for creating wonderful innovative fold-out invites that were so incredible they are hard to describe.  So here are a couple of pictures.



The buildup to the wedding itself was a bit of a blur. After the first 18 months feeling like a small ice age, the final furlong from January flew by.  At the start of March we had a "pre-wedding shoot", a service offered by our photographer (the peerless Eliza Claire), which by fluke took place on a rare dry and sunny day.  We held the shoot on the Parkland Walk, a former railway line-turned-nature reserve local to us which we're lucky enough to be able to walk part of our daily journey to work on.  Eliza produced some really impressive shots, although one was unplanned - local gigantic-bear-dog Winston out for a walk trying to get in on the action, nose-to-nose with me!



Two weeks prior to the ceremony, on the same day were our stag and hen nights.  I think both of us were touched by quite how many people turned up, many of whom travelled to London especially.   Credit is due to my Best Man Tom who masterminded a brilliant afternoon of the Thames Clipper, followed by the British Music Experience and then climbing the O2 in the pouring rain - which felt like one hell of an achievement! After a curry we then went onto a club in Angel, later being joined by the hen party, which was a fantastic end to the day given we don't really split our friends down gender lines in any case.  It was also just down the road from where we'd be getting married a fortnight later...!



Although Kate can rightly take credit for the vast majority of the wedding ideas, I was quite proud of one of mine.  We'd talked for some time about themed table plans at the Wedding Breakfast but not quite nailed something right for us.  Eventually I suggested: why not numbers 1 singles from various points in our lives?  There were bound to be some duds in there but they would undoubtedly make great talking points as well as confirming my chart nerd status.  We decided to have tables themed around Kate's birthday (Only You by The Flying Pickets), my birthday (Hello by Lionel Richie - perfect!), the date we both started at the University of York (some Will Young and Gareth Gates duet, how very 2002), the date we started going out (Obviously by McFly - because she's out of my league!), the day we moved into our first flat (Crazy by Gnarls Barkley) and the day we got engaged (something by Pitbull - my timing not especially romantic here).



For all these Kate managed to get hold of the original vinyl or CD from eBay, the artwork from which would be on the table plan and the discs on the tables themselves.  We took a huge gamble though by saying the the top table would be whatever was number one on the day we got married - ie. announced the Sunday before, giving us not much time to arrange it.  Thankfully virtually no singles are released on CD anymore (I'm amazed we got hold of the 2011 Pitbull one) which meant all we had to do was print off the artwork and label up a CD-R for the table.  Throughout April we nervously watched the charts and at various points thought we might end up with "Let's Get Ready To Rhumble" or "Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead" as the lead record.  The last week saw a battle between a dire will.i.am/Justin Bieber collaboration and a nice enough Rudimental track.  Thankfully the latter won, although we wished Daft Punk's epic Get Lucky had been released a few days earlier as we both love it!



Our last day at work was Wednesday 24th April. I'd arranged for some flowers to be delivered to Kate at the Google fortress a few streets away, but I was then surprised by cards from both the London and Leeds presentation teams and bubbly in the office, which was a great way to start our longest ever holiday! 



Before we knew it, it was Friday 26th April: t-minus one day, and quite an epic day of organisation.  We always knew that having the wedding in London in two different venues would be quite tough given that a huge chunk of our guests would be visiting London especially and hardly anyone we know has a car.  Luckily my sister bucks that trend and so we spent Thursday picking up the six hire suits from the tailor in Barking, and then Friday dropping our wedding night suitcase off at our hotel, greeting our family off the train, shuttling all the suits, the dress and the ceremony stuff to my hotel (with Kate's stuff then taken from there to her hotel by taxi) and finally taking all the reception decoration to the pub where it would be held.  And while all this was going on, Kate was getting her nails done.  Not that we were conforming to gender stereotypes, you understand.  After a quick run through at Kate's hotel of all the details in the "bible" we'd put together with all the horrendous detail I won't bore you with about who needed to do what when, with most of the bridal and groom parties, Kate and bid farewell and I headed to Islington for some drinks with already-arrived guests.  And then, to bed...



The day of the ceremony is always said to be something of a blur.  I think the presence of a photographer is required not only to immortalise the day but also to remind you what actually happened! Given the huge amount of coordination I'm delighted to report everything went pretty much to plan.  After much nervous checking of the weather (which remained stubbornly stuck on "showers" throughout) we were relieved that not only was a was it dry when it needed to be, there was beautiful sunshine around the time of the ceremony! With my ushers, best man and a number of other guests in tow we walked the ten minutes along Upper Street to the Town Hall.  We'd been told by Islington Council that there was a fairly tight turnaround between ceremonies and so we'd need to make ourselves scarce fairly promptly after our ceremony avoid getting in the way of the 2pm booking.  Sadly that message hadn't filtered through to the midday party, who were stood on the steps having every combination of photo lineup under the sun taken, until we decided we would have to edge past in order to get the council chamber ready.  It was then we found another party on the grand staircase having more photos that needed to be navigated past.  It was like some sort of wedding-themed computer game.  I was half expecting to find an end-of-level baddy at the top of the stairs.



The previous group delayed us by about ten minutes in the end but eventually the ushers got everyone inside and we were ready to go.  The Council Chamber is an incredible space, as you can see from the photos.  The amazing thing about it is that everyone is sat around you in a semi-circle, so you can really see everyone as you're sat there.  Thanks to the previous group I didn't have a long wait but it's a lonely position, sat in the the middle of that room on your own!  I knew that the bridal party would be entering before Kate and her Dad, but I didn't want to turn around too soon and end up staring down the aisle for a long time.  In the end this was made easy for me when I heard Kate's Grandma say "oh, isn't she lovely"!  The moment I saw Kate in her dress for the first time is captured on camera but I was genuinely blown away by how incredible she looked.  Nothing can quite prepare you for the arrival of your bride in the dress you've been forbidden from seeing for months, looking more beautiful than she's ever been before. 



The ceremony was brief but really, really lovely.  My sister Laura read John Hegley's Beliefs and Promises and Kate's brother Lee read John Cooper-Clarke's i wanna be yours,  both wonderful poems that mean a lot to us.  We chose some of our favourite music for various parts of the ceremony.  While guests were arriving we played Digital Love by Daft Punk, Two Doors Down by Mystery Jets and Make Me Feel Again by Edwyn Collins.  Kate walked in to TrueLove Ways by Buddy Holly and we signed the register to Something Changed by Pulp and I Love You by The Pipettes and then, before we knew it, we were married!  We walked out to Don't Falter by Mint Royale, a track that wasn't a massive hit when released but both of us loved independently at the time - it encompassing both of our musical tastes, with the dying embers of Britpop coupled with the big-beat sound popular at the turn of the century.  After some photos on the grand staircase and the confetti shots outside the town hall (in glorious sunshine!) we were off!



We'd solved the issue of transporting people from one venue to another by hiring a Routemaster bus, continuing the London feel.  We'd asked that the bus go to the reception venue via Alexandra Palace, partly to drop us off their for some photos but also to extend the journey and give some of our northern guests a taste of north London.  This worked really well, as everyone had a good chinwag whilst sipping champagne that Kate's parents had kindly brought back from France.


While we were being photographed at Ally Pally - lest we forget the birthplace of what had brought us together, television - a little girl and her mother approached Kate and asked her if she was a princess, as they'd gone to the palace but the princess wasn't there!  Quite a sweet moment.  Before we headed to our reception - at a lovely pub called The Prince Albert in Camden Town - we had some more photos in the pretty streets nearby, before entering the venue.  Nothing can quite prepare you for the high of walking into a room with everyone cheering you - I know this sounds weird on your wedding day but you do forget sometimes that everyone is looking at you two!



After some amazing food - that pub really do food well! - we had the speeches. I'd had a good idea of what I wanted to say for some time - mentally writing it in my head when swimming, mostly! - but had a few nerves about it in the weeks before the wedding, rewriting it a lot. In the end, it went down quite well.  I was hugely encouraged by the reaction to Kate's Dad's lovely speech, and how everyone reacted to mine once I got going.  I did worry I would lose it at some of the more sentimental bits about Kate - and also in particular the section about my Gran not being able to be there - but one of the advantages of reading over it so many times in advance is that you become so used to the words that, to you at least, they lose some of their emotional weight, which did have the advantage that it was the guests who ended up blubbing, not me! Tom also gave a touching best man's speech.  Well, touching apart from the washing machine bit.  If you weren't there, that's all I'm saying.



Kate had decided she would give a speech too, at the evening reception.  I loved this: so few brides do it, and it really gave her a chance to shine.  Although she won't admit it she's really, really good at public speaking, and knowing Kate as we all know her it wouldn't be right for her to go the whole day saying little more than "I do". Plus she said some really nice things about me, so that was good too!  She received so much praise not only for making a speech but for how brilliant it was, and rightly so.



A long time ago, before we decided much else, we had chosen what our first dance would be.  We both love Dusty Springfield's I Only Want To Be With You so, so much. The lyrics are pretty much spot on for how both of us feel about each other, the sound is so evocative of the 60s look that Kate was keen for, plus it does have the bonus of being quite short! Neither of us are particularly any good at dancing but we did really want to do the first dance. We kept the song choice a complete secret: only our DJ James knew about it, but Tom nailed it when he said that the lyrics pretty much summed up what we'd both said in our speeches.  We rehearsed it quite extensively, but neither of us are convinced it was that great on the night.  Still: looks good in still photos, and what a tune!



I was tempted to not do "thank yous" in this blog having done them at the time and privately since, but so much of the day was a result of the fine work of so many wonderful family and friends.  So, very quickly: both sets of parents, Steve & Sandra and Anne & Les, for all the financial, creative and general wonderful support they gave; our siblings Laura, Lee and Nick for the readings, design work and general organisational help with the big day; the bridal and groom parties: Tom, Rowan, Dave, Vanky, Graham, Morgan, Claire and Oliver for generally being ace and supportive and making the day go without a hitch, our witnesses Chris and Jamie for returning the favour we did for them at their Civil Partnership a few years ago, the staff of Islington Town Hall and The Prince Albert for giving us such a wonderful, flawless day, Dunns Bakery and my new Grandma Audrey for the tasty cakes, our superstar DJ James for keeping everyone dancing until 1am, Jack Bunneys and Butterfly Vintage Brides for our outfits and finally our wonderful photographers and videographers Eliza, Hannah, Frances and Becky (girl power!). I'd also like to thank everyone that came, particularly from outside of London.  So much of the amazing wedding atmosphere was down to have such a great group of guests who all genuinely seemed to have a great time which meant a lot to us.  We're also very grateful for all the numerous and generous donations to our honeymoon fund.  We had the most incredible three weeks in St. Pancras Renaissance, Berlin and St. Lucia that we simply would not have been able to do without everyone's generosity, so once again: thank you.



I said in my speech but I'll say it again here, the biggest thank you for the day has to go to Kate.  So much of the vision for the day, the style, the look and the feel was down to her incredible taste and general scarily good sense for what works and what doesn't.  I'll admit that a lot of things I rolled my eyes at when they were suggested (giant illuminated letters?!) really made the day.  She could easily go into a career doing this sort of thing.  That she managed to do it largely off her own back is of huge credit to her.  She's currently writing an entry for an influential wedding blog who want to feature the wedding, which is really flattering.



So now it's all over, and the honeymoon we were on the way to when I started writing this has been and gone.  We're yet to have the infamous "wedding blues". I think this is mainly because the day was so, so wonderful and everything that we wished for.  It's a cliché but it's true: it was the best day of our lives, and not only that but we're so excited about everything the future holds. We've nothing but good memories about the whole day and are so grateful to everyone who made it possible.  I still get a buzz out of calling Kate my wife, and I've a sneaking suspicion that's not going to change any time soon!  I'll end slightly on a slightly soppy note (hey, it's an occasion when I'm allowed to do so), with the lyrics to the chorus of Don't Falter. It's essentially "our song", and given that against all odds the sun came out for our big day, wonderfully appropriate.

Hey, don't falterYou know we ought to be togetherStrange, I saw yaI sort of knew it was for ever

Please stay with meAnd never miss a chance to kiss meBabe, I love yaWhen you're with me, it's always summer




Sunday, 7 April 2013

No More "I Love You"s


That title got your attention didn't it!

So...here we are.  Less than three weeks to go until the big day and Kate and I tie the knot.  We're both very very excited - the sort of excited that makes you need the toilet if you think about it too much - but we are currently knee-deep in wedding admin, the equivalent of coming home to do homework every night for three weeks.  Forms for this, forms for that, writing up information for this and that person, and so it goes on.  One thing we're having to decide on is the music we will be having during the ceremony.  For a laugh - and to relieve the tedium of form-gate - we decided to try and find the most inappropriate songs to play at a wedding.  Enjoy!

Annie Lennox - No More "I Love Yous"
R Kelly - Bump 'n' Grind
The Prodigy - Smack My Bitch Up
Atomic Kitten - See Ya
Busted - You Said No
Oasis - Stop Crying You Heart Out
S.mouse - Poo On You
Spice Girls - Goodbye
Tomcraft - Loneliness

Whigfield - Another Day
Cee Lo Green - Forget You

Honeyz - End of the Line
...you get the idea with that.  If you can think of more then pop them in the comments!

In fact in among all the HILARITY we've managed to come up with quite a few songs that mean a lot to us, the first dance in particular.  This is probably the biggest secret of the whole day - only three people know what it is: me, Kate and our DJ James.  It's spot on for us in so many ways so I look forward to you either hearing it on the night or when I inevitably babble on about it here afterwards!  


It's nearly two years since I proposed.  We didn't really have a lot of choice with the length of engagement - we needed to save and we wanted a Spring wedding.  But even with that in mind the first year was pretty frustrating as we found we were unable to book our ceremony until a year before the due date, which of course meant we couldn't book anything else off the back of it in case the date didn't come through, meaning we had eight months of being able to do very little but talk about what we wanted to do.  I had to take a deep breath every time someone piped up with "how's the wedding planing going?" in the kitchen at work.  But then all the prep kicked in and didn't stop!  I'm not quite sure what we're going to do with our time once it is all over!  (oh that's right, buy a flat, I remember now...)


But now the day itself is almost upon us - the dress and suit are both in our possession (must make sure the bags don't get mixed up), the stag and hen dos are imminent (and sound suitably epic) and the rings sit expectantly on the table (waiting to be lost at the last minute).  So I better stop wasting time writing ultimately unnecessary blogs and get back to my speech instead, which rather scarily will not only be recorded but presented to us on Blu-Ray afterwards, so at least if it's rubbish I can console myself that the picture quality is excellent.  


It's tempting to see the wedding as the end of a countdown that began nearly nine years ago when Kate popped round to my student house to watch a DVD and has taken in university, jobs, flats and holidays along the way, but in fact it's the start of so much more.  I'm so excited about everything that is still to come: 27th April is the first day of the rest of our lives.

With so many more "I Love You"s...




Friday, 15 March 2013

Farewell to the Concrete Doughnut

I can't claim to have any great association with BBC Television Centre other than, like most, a long-term viewer of output from within its walls.  But in a way that's the best association of all - you feel like you know the place inside out despite having only visited on a handful of occasions.  So, like any self-respecting telegeek, I'm more than a little sad that this month sees Auntie bidding farewell to the good old Concrete Doughnut.


Growing up and watching too much telly, TVC simply looked like the most fun place you could hope to work.  Saturdays in particular showed it at its best, starting the day with the imperial behemoths of Going Live! and Live & Kicking making the most of their studios and indeed the whole building.  Grandstand then straddled the entire afternoon with a backdrop apparently of the bustling sport department hard at work.  Saturday night entertainment - either the Generation Game, Noel's House Party or The National Lottery Live - would show the larger studios at their best and finally Match of the Day would round things off.  And I haven't even mentioned news, weather or continuity yet, all of which was in the mix too.

Particularly for my generation the building was made into something of an icon by the title sequence of Live and Kicking, which turned TV Centre into a pinball machine.  Every Saturday morning for seven years the image of TV Centre was placed into the minds of millions of children.  Not only was it one of the best title sequences ever created, it ensured that no-one could miss where the programme was being made.  That iconic shot of the ball bursting out of the wall of TC1 signals the start of the weekend to many twenty-and-thirty-somethings.

I first visited TV Centre in September 2002 with my good friend Chris.  We'd booked to go on the famous guided tour of the building.  Famous mainly because it wasn't that good, and because it barely changed in the decade it operated for.  Like most, I have to admit that when the famous facade first appeared into view as we arrived on the Central Line I was a little underwhelmed.  You forget that on Children In Need night every spotlight in West London is pointed at the frontage to make it look glitzy, and that there was an awful lot of post-production on that famous Live and Kicking title sequence.  It just didn't look that....big, which is ironic because the site is famously huge.  You can read about our trip here.  I have to admit that the 18-year-old me was a little economical with the truth about the tour, mainly because the tour guide I mention was keen to get a good write-up.  I also don't mention that due to joining the wrong queue Chris and I almost ended up on an early edition of Dick and Dom in da Bungalow! Unsurprisingly the tour groups were kept away from most actual TV, so the most interesting bit for me was standing in the viewing gallery of TC6 watching The Saturday Show's set being dismantled (that Saturday morning obsession surviving my childhood!).  A depressing amount of time was then spent showing off a demonstration chromakey green screen (is there really anyone left who doesn't know about that?) and finally a tedious quiz in a box room away from anything telly-related.  But still - you got to go inside, and that was good enough for me.

Perhaps the best way to visit TV Centre was to go to a studio recording, which by definition meant you got to get close to actually telly.  When Kate and I first moved to London we decided to take advantage of our location by applying to go to a fair few of these.  The first was Grownups, a BBC3 sitcom (remember that?  nope, thought not) which mainly involved sitting there for three hours watching Sheridan Smith fluff her lines.  After that experience we decided to try and see something live so went to The National Lottery Jet Set, only to turn up to an edition where Eamonn Holmes had pre-recorded most of the quiz sections earlier due to other commitments (lunch? tea?).  Still, we were some of the last to see the live lottery draw before Fathers for Justice disrupted it from the audience and it was locked away at the BFBS studios instead.  Next up was The Late Edition, an entertaining BBC4 Marcus Brigstocke comedy programme.  Kate fulfilled a childhood ambition in 2008 by attending the Top of the Pops Christmas Special ("Girls Aloud are very thin" was her insight from this occasion), late in 2010 we witnessed a recording of Harry Hill's TV Burp and finally towards the end of 2011 we saw the first Frank Skinner-hosted Room 101.

The holy grail though was a wander round the building unattended, which I finally got to do in the summer of 2007 when Kate got a job at the BBC and shamefully abused her position by signing me in as a guest.  And guess what?  It's a working building, with lots of busy people getting on with their jobs.  I think this is the slightly sad reality of it being such an avid TV fan as a child - you take it for granted once you work there.  I remember waiting outside the ITN building on Grays Inn Road in September 2005 before my ITV job interview, seeing employees walking in and out and wishing I could be one of them.  For the last eight years I have been, and yet I do take it for granted because most of the time, it's a job, and a job that has its fair share of frustrations and gripes.  You can see a similar contrast between the TV Centre presented on screen to millions as the glamorous, shiny, exciting home of popular telly and the TV Centre of reality that's a bit shabby, full of asbestos and miles away from anywhere in west London.  It's quite telling that whilst celebrities are lining up to bemoan the loss of the studios, those who have actually worked in the offices all day are less complimentary.

The BBC deciding to leave the site has prompted much derision.  Whilst sad to see it go I'm not sure I totally disagree with the decision.  It's true - in many parts it is a building that's not particularly great to work in, built for a different era and difficult to modernise.  You can see a similar situation on a smaller scale at ITV.  The former LWT tower on the South Bank has terrible lifts that can't be fixed and nasty shoebox-sizes offices.  On another point, the closure is largely the result of other decisions.  News has quite rightly been centralised in New Broadcasting House - TV, radio, online and World Service all under one roof in central London for the first time.  I've written about the move of sport, children's and Five Live to Salford before, but suffice to say it's a move I support.  All of this means there is far less of the week-in-week-out TV programming that kept the centre busy over the decades.  

But it's not all bad.  In fact, TV Centre is coming out of this far better than many other iconic studio closures over the last few years.  Tyne Tees Television on City Road in Newcastle is now dust, all that's left of Central TV on Broad Street in Birmingham is a set of multi-coloured railings and BBCs Pebble Mill and Oxford Road are both history too.  Not only is TVC getting a superb send-off - from Richard Marson's superb 2012 documentary Tales of TV Centre to BBC Four's Goodbye Television Centre night on 22nd March and everything else in between - it will in essence survive. Studios 1-3 will be retained, presumably on the same sort of model as The London Studios operates, although there is some concern that there will not be enough studios and that the right ones are not being retained.  BBC Worldwide will move into the former news centre, with the corporation vacating the soulless White City and Media Village site up the other end of Wood Lane (in itself a reversal of the property strategy of the past decade).  The rest will be an as yet undefined mixture of homes, hotels and whatnot, bringing a new meaning to the phrase "studio flat".  Don't get me wrong - it's terribly sad that so much will be lost, but TV will still be made on the site and the front-facing facade will look more or less the same.  In today's unsentimental world that's quite a result.

It doesn't stop the exit from the site for redevelopment work to begin being unbearably sad for us anoraks.    Before Kate left the BBC we once again abused her staff status for a wander round the building, which even last year was very quiet.  We took a look at the former Blue Peter garden, now dark and empty.  Studio 9, facing the garden, was amazingly unlocked, and I couldn't resist a quick look inside.  It was the home of CBBC continuity for a decade and lived out its last few years housing the final incarnation of live Saturday morning children's TV, TMi.  Now it was stripped of all equipment and in a very sorry state given how it was the face of children's TV for a generation.  Wandering around the scene dock I was amazed to see a painted mural outside TC6 dating back to a Live and Kicking phone-in game in the late 1990s was still there!  And I have to admit that I did something of a pilgrimage to find where the broom cupboard would have been.  OK, it's not there anymore - the whole area has been redeveloped into offices - but I couldn't resist wandering up to where it would have been.  I have a very patient fiancée.

It'll be a sad week as the last parts of the corporation move out.  Comic Relief is the last large-scale live studio production and news leaves at 1pm on Monday afternoon.  Friday sees the on-screen farewell, starting with The One Show followed by BBC4 dedicating a night of programming to the site including an outdoor concert by Madness.  The vast majority of BBC activity on the site will cease at the end of March.  Farewell, concrete doughnut - for now at least - and thanks for the memories.