by Magnus Shaw On 7th June 1977, the Sex Pistols and a coterie of pals and hangers-on, threw a party on a pleasure boat on the Thames. The band played, drinks were consumed and eventually the river police forced them to dock. Malcolm McLaren was arrested, Richard Branson lost his deposit. The escapade was a planned protest against the establishment generally and the Queen’s jubilee specifically – and, although it has passed into rock history, its impact as a political statement was dilute at best.
The German philosopher, Georg Hegel, said this about two hundred and fifty years ago, and then Lyse Doucet said something very similar the other day. But it was the phrase ‘people of tarmac’ that has stayed with me since Wednesday.
I spent an extraordinary evening earlier this week in the company of journalists and writers who do a real job. The reporters who put their lives at risk every time they go to work; foreign correspondents who become used to the sound of gunfire and the smell of death.
by Lisa Cordaro: I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but ‘Doctor Who’ has finally eaten itself. With apologies to committed ‘Whovians’ – for whom the programme is less a TV event and more a way of life – the 50th anniversary show, The Day of the Doctor, ditched its skis and tumbled spectacularly off-piste.
We start with the ‘TARDIS’ airlifted into Trafalgar Square to meet the head of U.N.I.T., who has a letter bearing the seal of Queen Elizabeth I. (Yes, that Elizabeth I – stay with me, this will make sense.) She leads The Doctor into the National Gallery, where proof of Good Queen Bess’s letter is provided by a 3D portrait of Gallifrey, during the Time War. How on earth did it get here? More pertinently, what on earth is a Tudor monarch doing sending a painting of an intergalactic conflict to 21st-century London?
by Magnus Shaw If things had turned out differently and Tom Selleck had taken the Indiana Jones role, the rolling boulders and derring-do would still have thrilled us. But one can’t help thinking the lack of Harrison Ford’s rugged sarcasm would have robbed the franchise of its popular magic. However spectacular your special effects, in the movies, casting is everything. And so it is with ‘Gravity’.
Currently topping the UK box-office chart, ‘Gravity’ has been called a ‘game-changer’. That rather depends on your definition, but if we’re talking about endless sequels, comic book adaptations and vulgar frat-boy comedies, I’d be most surprised if one movie can deliver substantial change to the Hollywood game. Although this is more to do with the intransigence of Tinsel Town accountants than any weakness in the make-up of ‘Gravity’, for it is a wonderful film indeed.
My first experience was in its previous life as the Millennium Dome. I was one of the foolish people who tootled along to the Millennium Experience.
“In the Dome we have a creation that, I believe, will truly be a beacon to the world.” (Tony Blair)
Apart from being a colossal waste of money, the visit was memorable for me in that I managed to lose a crowned tooth whilst there, and came home determinedly not opening my mouth wider than a millimetre. Then, a couple of days later, my girlfriend gave me one of those ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ conversations and went back to her mother in Yorkshire. Naturally, I blamed it all on the Millennium Dome.
So then I waited until August of 2007, when the Dome had transformed into the O2 Arena. Prince came to town. My girlfriend (another one by then) and I loved the show, and enjoyed the river cruise back along the Thames. Well, I say we enjoyed it. She became convinced that someone was going to blow the boat up as we went through Tower Bridge. That meant the journey had a distinct edge to it.
Then my father died the next day.
by Magnus Shaw As you may have noticed, the Mayor of Toronto has been attracting attention thanks to his crack smoking – an occasion captured on video for posterity. Shocking? Well, perhaps. But I should tell you that our own Prime Minister has been consuming a dangerous drug too. I’ve seen the pictures. There he was, addressing the assembled money-mongers at the City’s Guildhall, and all around him were vessels of high-strength intoxicants. Brandy, whisky, and port – freely available to Mr. Cameron just seconds before his keynote address. All three of those substances are brimful of alcohol; a spectacularly addictive and potentially lethal chemical. It just happens to be entirely legal.
by Lisa Cordaro I was never too keen on Morrissey. In fact, I didn’t even like The Smiths when everyone else did. The reason is partly because, back in the grim, Thatcherite 1980s, everyone I knew who did like them wore black and was horribly right-on. However, it was mostly because there was a slightly obnoxious cult of alienated shoegazers who’d decided the bloke with a quiff and a tree in his back pocket was God. Since then, I’ve mellowed in my views and come around to The Smiths. Lyrically they’re razor-sharp, and Johnny Marr’s guitar work is nothing short of sublime.
I worked at Capital Radio in London a couple of times, when both they, and I, had nothing better to do.
In my second stint, when the regular producer had an appointment at the dentist, or got kept in for detention after school, I found myself producing (nominally) Roger Scott.
I say ‘nominally’ because he only wanted me to be sure I got one thing right. If we had something to give away – some gig tickets or an album – and we were going to ask people to phone us with the answer to some question, then I had to tell the winning listener, with some force, that they must let Roger lead the conversation, that it would be short and sweet, and that the one thing they must not do is ask to “say hello to some of my friends.”
by Magnus Shaw “I think democratic accountability is almost non-existent, and the ordinary person now recognises just how non-existent it is. I think the average person is seriously worried about where it’s all going. They don’t believe what they’re being told by the politicians, that the shoots are coming through and we might be over the worst. OK, so the deficit may be getting a bit smaller, maybe, but the debt isn’t. We’re all being hoodwinked by this lot, and the next lot, and the last lot. I don’t see any of these things in isolation, I look at them as a whole spectrum of what’s been going on over the last, I don’t know, 25 years – probably longer, but that’s long enough – and I’m saying to myself there has to be a democratic revolution.”
When Russell Brand holds forth on the state of the nation, he certainly attracts attention. But that’s not him. It’s Michael Mansfield QC, interviewed by Decca Aitkenhead in The Guardian. Unfortunately for Michael, his comments provoked considerably less soul-searching, ire, ridicule and all-round exposure than Brand’s excited, but similar, rhetoric on Newsnight.
by Terence Dackombe: Always one to follow a trend, I thought I would try something new and write an open letter. During the last couple of weeks, we have seen fine examples of this neglected form of communication from Russell Brand and Robert Webb.
However, the difference here is that I’m not going to tell you how you should vote, or even advise you not to vote at all, as I don’t have Russell Brand’s enormous knowledge of political history, or anything like his years of study and diligent research behind me.
My open letter is addressed to the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) – the governing body for football, representing 209 nations and run by a bloke who is a bit bonkers.
by Magnus Shaw: Lou Reed died on my birthday. So, that evening, I set aside the cards and crisps to read the tributes and obituaries rapidly filling websites and social media. Understandably, people were shocked and sad. To many, Reed appeared a permanent fixture in the rock landscape – like Keith Richards, he was grizzled and gnarled but venerable and invincible. Men like Lou aren’t supposed to die.
Thanks to the undeniable influence of his work with the Velvet Underground and as a solo performer, the famous – from Iggy to Bobby Gillespie – added their voices to the flush of tributes. Reed’s death genuinely felt like an unwelcome milestone in music history, which is why fans and DJs, writers and singers, critics and musos didn’t hesitate to publish their appreciation of the man. I just wonder whether he’d have given a hoot.
by Terence Dackombe: It must be at least two years ago now since I pitched the idea that I would write about Debbie Barham; every time I think of her it makes me feel sad, and if you’re hoping for a happy ending I’m going to disappoint you. This feeling of sadness has stopped me writing about Debbie, but I have been thinking about her recently and I think it will help if I write about her now.
We pioneered crowd sourced ideas on ‘Week Ending’ and ‘The News Huddlines’ at BBC Radio in the 1980s. You would probably have to go through ten stages of commissioning now, but in those more carefree times anyone could send in some ideas for one-liners or longer pieces for these two radio comedy shows and know that if they were any good, there was a reasonable chance you would hear your name read out as one of the contributors at the end of the show. Additionally, you would find yourself in receipt of a cheque for fifty pounds or so (I recall you received fifteen quid for a one-liner on Week Ending).