Thrills, spills and tunes from Salford

BBC Five Live film critic blokey Mark Kermode and his straight man presenter friend Simon Mayo join forces with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra on Friday 10 June 2011 for a day of film music broadcasts in what will turn out to be a special day for them, for Radio 5 Live and for BBC Radio 3 as well for a whole variety of different reasons.

The programme itself – a collection of film music inlcuding Danny Elfman’s Batman Suite and the Star Wars’ Suite – is fitting for Kermode and Mayo to mark ten years of their film show on Five Live. But it’s also a programme which has been discussed already at the planning stage in a round table discussion on Five Live so we’re led to be believe.

Personally, I can’t believe any orchestra would be scheduled to play a gig so close to the actual event without knowing exactly what the programme will be, although the audience choice Prom might set a new bar where that concert-planning protocol is concerned.

The concert will go out live in its entirety of BBC Radio 3 Live with Mark Kermode anchoring in between pieces. Mark Kermode on Radio 3? That’s a first. Two names never associated before now. Will they be associated again?

This isn’t – as I suspect – a measure of BBC Radio 3 necessarily being dumbed down. Film music – obviously – is much-maligned amongst classical music snobs but its place on the network is undeniable. Kermode’s appearance – not only presenting, but playing the chromatic harmonica as well – is less about giving Radio 3 a new appearance but more the currency needed in bring Kermode’s loyal fans from Five Live and onto – albeit briefly – the BBC’s classical music network. If I was Controller of Radio 3 I’d been making it a 3 line whip for all listeners to keep listening to the network long after the final chords of Elfman’s Batman Suite were played. Mind you, that’s probably why I’m doing the job I am and Roger Wright is Controller of Radio 3.

Not only is Kermode presenting the live evening concert from the BBC Philharmonic’s new home in Salford but he and Mayo are also broadcasting a cut down version of the gig during the afternoon show on Five Live. This concert isn’t just about them on Radio 3. It’s about them previewing the music to a potentially new audience on a different network, tempting them to tune in later on in the evening.

This ‘cross-fertilization’ of audiences across different radio networks comes at an interesting point in time. Now more than ever classical music producers and marketeers are consider how to pull in audiences into the concert hall. How to ensure interest remains in classical music. A recent debate featuring Stephen Fry and DJ Kissy at Cambridge University highlighted that the discussion point isn’t going away fast, especially during this cash-strapped time for arts organisations.

This broadcast across two networks with a cut-down preview on one and a full concert on another isn’t the first demonstration of a perceived link between the two audiences. In October last year there was a live broadcast debate between both Five Live and Radio 3 audiences discussing the deliberately simplistic question: Which is better? Sport or the Arts?

I can’t quite put my finger on whether it’s a refreshing ongoing experiment or one brought about by committee.

I hope it’s the latter because I’d hate the though there’s someone around who thinks getting people interested in classical music is merely about analysing audience trends.

Mind you, the extent of my research hasn’t been huge it has to be said. I’m still marvelling from what the digital marketing lady at the London Philharmonic Orchestra inspired me to think about last summer.

Ready made bread to start the day

My late night return home last night saw me set up the breadmaker on a timer to complete in time for me to make sandwiches to take into work today. (It’s going to be a big day. I want to make sure I’m prepared.)

The finished product is perfect. It had cooled inside the breadmaker more than I would have liked, so that the surfaces are a little sponger than normal. Even so, I am at least able to slice it which is the point.

I slung in some mixed herbs for this one.

Breadmaking my way into tomorrow

Those who know me – those who know me at work – will know that the past week or so hasn’t been easy.

Today hasn’t been all that either. A never-ending stream of apparently unconnected events saw me resort to placing my head in my hands mid-afternoon. At one other point a chance encounter with a Red Bee Media webmaster saw me shrug my shoulders with resignation.

I don’t explain these things for sympathy. More, it’s the vital backdrop for my present source of joy.

I’ve finally cracked the breadmaker. Finally produced a series of near-perfect loaves. And insodoing derived a simple pleasure from doing something fundamentally creative, reminiscent of childhood and ultimately reassuring.

If the balloon goes up (and the Mellerware holds up), I could make bread. And I’d happily do it for people in need of toast on their way to work.

You heard it here first.

My 10 Year Appraisal

Do you – as I do – sigh with resignation whenever someone ushers in one of the most of springtime necessities: the annual appraisal?

Maybe you’re one of those people who has it worse. Maybe you’re one of those who has quarterly appraisals. Maybe you have targets to reach other than the goal of merely making it into work on time. Or maybe you’re a freelancer.

I’ve got my appraisal this week. The form maybe – supposedly – a good deal easier to fill in thus (so I’m told) making the appraisal process a whole lot easier, but even so the prospect makes me wince.

There are a number of reasons for this. My inner cynic looks for opportunity to raise his ugly head and throw his voice from time to time. A meeting between a line manager and one of his minions is one of those opportunities. Have both parties left their personal baggage outside the meeting room? Have they left their personalities outside too? Do either party really believe this will make the slightest bit of difference to the next twelve months anyway? Are both individuals just engaging in a similarly intricate and bizarre dance of the kind a drone bee does around his queen in the hive?

There is a more fundamental reason I find appraisals difficult.

I am not – contrary to what you might be thinking – comfortable trumpeting the minutae of my personal triumphs. Job applications and interviews are an entirely different matter of course. In those instances it’s expected that the interviewee will big themselves up. But in appraisals, we’re entering into the dance for an arbitrary reason, it seems to me. This exercise is for a piece of paper both of us who sign our names on the bottom know won’t be looked at again until next year.

Appraisals are – to my mind at least – the equivalent of being told by a frustrated history teacher to write an essay ‘About the First World War’. They can have a tendency to meander assuming they’re not one of those appraisals where ideas, plans and goals are imposed upon you. The latter equates to the history teacher writing the essay himself.

And then there’s that hideously important moment when your line manager comes to the meeting with a whole set of his own ideas. What a frightful pain in the arse that is. How to navigate that? Politely note them down and circle them for extra emphasis? Nod slowly, muttering something along the lines of “that’s a very interesting idea, I hadn’t thought of that”?

Ultimately however, I’m struck by how the time period under analysis is too short for my cynical/analytical mind to consider plausible. For example – how do I judge between what I consider is my best, most noteworthy achievement in the past twelve months when neither was achieved until the past two months and even then came about not because of l last year’s appraisal but instead a series of chance conversations when my previous line manager left?

With this in mind – and because I know my appraisal cannot be denied as much as I’d like it to be – I’ve done some extra preparation. I’ve appraised the past ten years. Or nearly ten years. Simply because it’s nearly ten years before I made a personal promise to myself to improve my working life and also because I’m a firm believer that broad brush-stroke analysis achieves more than micro-analysis.

In 2002 I promised myself:

1. To change careers from IT support to web design and development

I began this in early 2003, producing my own web design website – – producing a company intranet.

I left IT support in April 2005 when I joined the BBC as a webmaster.

In mid-2006 I designed and produced two websites (broadcasters portal for election campaign broadcasters and the UK Gold World Cup website).

Later, at the BBC I delivered a number of web projects for TV entertainment programmes, including Facebook applications, websites working with BBC teams and external suppliers.

Most recently, I’ve produced and managed the BBC Academy’s flagship informal learning website for journalists inside and outside the BBC –

2. To do something creative; to achieve something I’m truly proud of

The original plan was to write a book. A book about the Eurovision Song Contest. And despite me doing a shed load of research on the subject (extended periods of time spent at the BBC’s Written Archive Centre in Caversham) I lost confidence in writing it. Could I write a book? Would anyone actually read it? Just because I thought it was interesting, would anyone else? Have started repeated times. Never completed it. Doubt I will.

But I have ended up blogging a great deal. Established myself on the interweb. I’m now introduced at meetings as ‘Thoroughly Good’. And as a result of blogging I’ve honed my storytelling skills, explored my fascination with documenting ‘real life’ by producing video diaries of experiences in the media industry.

I’ve produced online content on a variety of platforms consistently over four years providing a left field commentary on areas of interest for me – Eurovision and classical music – featuring in BBC Homepage promotion on more than one occasion.

3. Work in the media industry (and more specifically at the BBC)

In fairness, this point represents ‘appraisal creep’ because this didn’t feature on the list way back in 2002, although the idea of it was first explored in 1998 when BBC Technology offered me a fairly boring job for more money than I’m on now. Who says the BBC wastes money?

This BBC-obsession reared it’s ugly head in May 2003 when I attend Eurovision in Latvia and en became more of a real goal in late 2004 when I went on a radio production course and subsequently worked with Sandi Toksvig on her lunchtime show at LBC Radio.

I’ve continued to pursue interesting opportunities at the BBC during the six years I’ve worked there (except for an erroneous and miserable 6 months spent in one division). And – on one level at least – I’m satisfied.

4. Be on BBC radio

I’ve done this. I did it a couple of months ago. And I shed a man tear when I heard it back. Job done.

What I see happening in the next ten years:

1. The move from a technical role to an editorial role will be formalised

My BBC has created a bit of a problem for me. Renowned for being charming, tenacious and opportunist, I am frequently dismissed as nothing more than a generalist. A jack of all trades. And in an organisation obsessed with labels, he who shouts the loudest normally does so. So, I fear I’ll still be regarded as nothing more than a technical individual. And when you’re labelled technical, editorial people normally dismiss you. Though it shouldn’t matter, for career purposes it absolutely does.

And anyway – as far as I can see – my editorial skills are no longer a loss-leader. Being formally acknowledged for my editorial and creative skills is no longer a desire but a necessity.

2. Produce at least one big, comparatively ground-breaking idea and deliver it to the audience

To detail the idea I have here would be stupid. The media environment is a big, viscious basket of competitive unpleasantness.

But that idea reflects the informal learning and training environment I work in at the BBC Academy and touches on some of the practical mentoring and project management skills I’ve stumbled upon in the past twelve months and sees the fruits of a collective delivered to the audience.

3. Be on BBC radio more

I have a massive ego. I’m not apologising for it. Enough said.

4. Appraise my relationship with the BBC

Seeing as I’ve spent my time appraising myself both in this blog post and in my real work appraisal, isn’t it time to take a few steps back and question the organisation I work for and the depth of my connection with it? The strength of the brand fuels my creative output and further ambition. But just how strong is that key relationship? Could it withstand another five years of being buffeted about? Will there still be opportunities in five years time? Am I still as enthused now as I was when I joined?

I’m droning on. Just as I do in my appraisals. But these are the difficult questions. These are the core goals. And seeing as they’re difficult to fathom out over a ten year period, you’ll not be surprised why annual appraisals are such challenging affairs. Still fingers crossed. And do – when you’ve got one in your hand – raise a glass to the next ten years or so.

Rude words and indignance. It’s that time again.

Approaching Indignance

Great summing up in response to a Daily Mail story highlighting further evidence of the BBC descending into the pits of depravity.

It’s not of course. It just seems that way to the Daily Mail. Mind you, it has been a tremendously long time since the last bout of countrywide indignance. It’s probably time for a bit more.

Watch the story grow. And I’m sure it will just as I’m sure it’s no coincidence the story is on the front page of the publication 48 hours or so after Chris Evans’ mention at the Hay Festival of how the compliance process imposed after the Ross Brand affair has limited his ideas for output.

One spectacular effect of this piece of journalism is – without doubt – a good deal more exposure for Sandi Toksvig, the News Quiz and BBC Radio 4. No publicity is bad publicity. At least, it doesn’t seem that way to me. Mind you, I’m biased aren’t I?

Thanks to @jemstone for flagging up the blog post.