Radio: Night Waves

If you’ve not listened to it before, Night Waves might possibly not be your cup of tea.

Some might consider it the driest of speech radio. Studio bound, round table discussions nestled away late on weekday nights on Radio 3.

I’ve not listened for a long time, not since I made a smallish video about a Radio 3 drama I sat in on rehearsals for during the Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival last year. It was then I saw Night Waves presenter Philip Dodd host one or two discussions recorded for broadcast later on in the week.

Dodd is a brilliant radio host, the kind of intelligent, well-researched, provocative host I appreciate listening to every time I want to hear something a little out of the ordinary and simple all at the same time.

What appeals to me about Night Waves is it’s relatively simplicity in radio terms. There are no bells and whistles. There’s no pre-requisite in terms of knowledge or experience on the listener. Just run a bath, ensuring you get in it with an open mind. Let the sound of voices engaging in discussion wash over and – because its brilliantly executed – soon you will enter that discussion like you’re right there.

Clearly I’m gushing. Shameful, isn’t it?

This evening’s programme was unexpectedly well-timed. One or two developments at work presented a few challenges during my day. This combined with my own stupidity rushing down the stairs at White City tube resulting in a painful accident meant my journey home was prolonged, very painful. I didn’t get home to see the third episode of Anne Frank go out.

When I got home, I laid in the bath rehearsing all the things I’d say at a meeting tomorrow. Clearly the fall at the tube station had brought out a little anger in me. I got in the bath, switched on the radio to hear Philip Dodd interviewing playwright David Hare.

Hare talked about institutions, specifically the BBC, the way institutions had lost their way in terms of the way they’re perceived by the public and by him as well as explaining how he feels about television drama today (it makes for interesting listening) compared to the work he did as a TV playwright in the late 80s. When he moves on to talking about those individuals who make videos or write blogs and such like I was cheering.

When you listen to the interview you’d think I wouldn’t agree, but something in the way the discussion played out left me cheering at the end of it.

Listen to it.  You’ll need to listen to a short poem and then you’re into the interview with David Hare.

Nigel Owen’s coming out story

 This morning’s piece in the Guardian G2 about now openly gay rugby referee Nigel Owens made for refreshing reading this morning.

His story is dramatic. One of those stories I instantly connect with.

Owens, had a girlfriend. He wanted to be married. The only son wanted to provide grandchildren for his parents. But there was a problem. He also realised he was attracted to men. Usher in a big problem and an overwhelming sense of internal conflict. It’s enough to push a man over the edge and it nearly did. He tried to commit suicide writing a note and taking a dose of sleeping pills before positioning himself high on a hill where noone could find him.

It didn’t work. Someone found him. The emergency services airlifted him to hospital and now he’s come out. Not only that, he’s written a book about it.

I understand that pain. I’ve been in the situation myself. Total conflict, total confusion, total fear. It’s the most hideous experience. Time stands still. Appetite goes. Personal cleanliness requires additional effort and is fundamentally pointless. Everything weighs down on your shoulders like a ton of bricks. You need a release. You want someone or something to lead you away from under the dark clouds.

His subsequent experience coming out to his rugby union bosses and colleagues was a brave one. It was also successful. Everyone was supportive. By all accounts no-one gave him a negative response.

When I read the piece in the Guardian G2 this morning I felt refreshed and enthused. I’d happened on something as I jostled for foot room on the 0816 from Hither Green. I’d read an uplifting story even though my early rise (5am on account of an over-insistent cat requiring food) meant I desperately wanted to drop off.

His experiences were positive and exactly what the gay community needs. Here was a normal looking bloke, doing a reasonably normal job with a vitally positive story to tell to the rest of the otherwise closeted gay community. His brush-off of the “banter” from the stands the cherry on the top:

“”Hand on heart,” he declares, he has not heard any homophobic abuse from rugby crowds either. “I’ve heard the odd comment like ‘We’ve got the bent referee today’ and everybody laughs because they think the referee is bent because he’s going to award tries to the home side. That’s a joke and banter. You laugh about it and that’s the best way to deal with it.”

It’s this kind of skilfully contextualising of what some regard as unforgivable gay taunts which sends out a powerful message, a message which communicates exactly what being gay is all about. It’s about nothing.

TV: The Diary of Anne Frank

People who work in TV scheduling abhor the term “appointment tv” – those programmes which we all apparently make a point of sitting down to watch, making sure that nothing interrupts us.

I know this only because I once attended a meeting attended by a number of middle-management people, swiftly categorising one of the programmes they were talking about as the perfect example of “appointment tv”.

I really wish I hadn’t opened my mouth (there are plenty other anecdotes where this contributes to a common theme). I hadn’t been in the meeting very long, didn’t know any of the people at all and must have surely demonstrated the obvious signs of a desperate man even more desperate to make a spectacular impression.

I did in a way. Nobody said anything. The pause went on for ever. A bitterly cold breeze passed through the meeting room shortly after this. I took this as a cue to leave.

Those middle-managers are wrong, of course. There is – as much as they want to deny it and carve out their bold vision for a brave new TV world – still the notion of  appointment tv. Only it’s a different from the kind of appointment tv they might be thinking of. Appointment TV is something personal.

It’s the stuff YOU want to watch. It’s the stuff which strikes a chord with YOU for what ever reason. The stuff which might prompt you to think all day long “I’m looking forward to seeing that, if only I could actually get myself on one of these late running trains, perhaps one with more than four carriages so there’s a chance I might actually get on it.”

My particular journey home saw me ditching my preferred method of train from London Bridge to Hither Green on account of tiresome delays. Instead I ended up taking the Jubilee Line to Canary Wharf and from there the DLR to Hither Green.

I’d wanted to get home in time for 7pm, in time to see the first of five episodes of The Diary of Ann Franke. Either I’d sit in the newly decorated living room with my recently repaired laptop or, if time was pressing, I’d watch it in the bath.

I’d gone to quite a bit of effort for me, getting in to work an hour earlier this morning so I could get legitimately leave an hour earlier than normal. It was important. I had to see the programme when it was broadacast – only very, very special people at the BBC get a preview of tape of such things as The Diary of Ann Franke and I’m not one of those people.

Public transport wasn’t working in my favour, however. I got home fifteen minutes after the programme started. I’d have to wait for it be on iPlayer  instead.

By the time it was available, the bath was run and I got in, dragging the laptop closer to the edge of the bath on a chair.

I got eight minutes in to the first episode and had to stop it. The programme was recorded on the Sky+ box downstairs. Based on the first eight minutes I’d seen on a 13 inch screen, I wanted to watch the whole thing on a 50 inch plasma downstairs in the lounge. Yes, it was that good.

Why was it so important? It’s just another TV drama, isn’t it? One inconveniently scheduled to run at 7pm every night this week. I never watch TV at 7pm every night. I never get home by 7pm. Why make the effort now ?

There’s something indescribably potent about Anne Frank’s story. I’m not Jewish nor  especially fascinated about the second world war or those who suffered in it. There was something distant and almost surreal about the idea of a real family actually having to hide in an annexe (what ever that was) which was in itself appealing to read, but the lasting effect of her diaries has taken me by surprise.

When I first read the diaries, the idea of writing a diary appealed to me. Something about the ritual of opening my very own secret world, just me, a notebook and a pen. It was therapeutic and seductive and reassuring all at the same time.

Somewhere up in the attic old teenage diaries survive. All of them pointless, tiresome drivel. None of them will see the light of the day. Never. They’re not for other people. They’re for me. It was writing. I wanted to write stuff. Anything.

It makes no difference if the handwriting isn’t right, if the layout is wrong or if the sentence doesn’t scan. It makes absolutely no difference whether I read it back (I never do). It’s indulgence available on tap and only for me.

That desire to commit thoughts to paper came from reading Anne Frank’s diaries when I was ten years old. We all had to read them at school. Then, our headmaster sold the idea of a school trip to Amsterdam, journeying up and down canals in a barge with the obligatory trip to Anne Frank’s house.

Watching the episode this evening stirred similar feelings I think I had when I read the book for the first time. There’s horror and anguish and agony in every scene, not solely because of the set design, the photography or the performances but instead because of the most painful of plot-spoilers:  Anne Frank never made it.

The first episode of The Diary of Anne Frank is available to watch here. Each subsequent episode will be available every day this week at 7.30pm.

Diary: Your Country Needs You #2

The morning after any Eurovision event is the worst time of all. There’s a mixture of relief that it’s all over and the inevitable post-match analysis followed by the bitter recriminations.

Bizarrely, I’m feeling the same way now, the morning after the first Your Country Needs You? Last night’s show was only the preview to the main selection event. There’s months to go before that post-Eurovision negativity I loathe. Still, for some of us Eurovision fans, we sat glued to our TV screens, assessing everything and (I’m speaking for myself here) getting excited even though perhaps we know we shouldn’t.

At the end of last night’s show us Eurovision fans who sat glued to the TV screen analysing everything were presented with six acts including identical twins Francine and Nicola, Emperors of Soul, teenage singer Charlotte, Jade (not Goodey), Damien and Mark.

I was excited at the end of it, buzzing with hopefulness. Mind you, I’ve never predicted a winner and always voted for the song I like. I figured I’d trawl the internet to see what a few others thought of it.

Chris Higgins at seemed a little down on the competitors with a doctored image of the main Eurovision homepage promo (the Eurovision stormtroopers have been dispatched although I understand they’re not looking for Chris necessarily). His assessment is surpassed by review with a scathing tagline reading “The TV blog that ranks … Your Country Needs You among the worst Saturday night BBC1 shows of all time.”

Ewan Spence provided some personal responses to the acts he saw on the show – he seems quite up on Damien and Mark.

The Schlagerboys seem like they can’t wait (either that or they want a job at the BBC), making it quite clear who they’re backing …

The whole show was completely schlagertastic and fabulous. The Schlagerboys aren’t that bothered who gets to sing the song in the end, as long as it’s Jade. 2009 is clearly going to be the UK’s year! It’s Birmingham 2010 all the way! Hurrah!

And also, according to the Schlagerboys,

they’ve [ the BBC ] even hired a behind-the-scenes blogger who clearly knows his Eurovision and isn’t going to run the contest down for the next five months.

That behind-the-scenes blogger – Mark Cook from the Guardian – writes on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s site …

Even if we don‘t win, this will at least restore some musical pride for the country that gave the world The Beatles and send a message to the rest of Europe that we are taking this most treasured of musical institutions more seriously.

Let’s hope so. Quite a challenge ahead of us then over the next few weeks.

Diary: Your Country Needs You

I know as I write this that nearly everyone else who can be bothered will almost certainly be writing about the man announced as the eleventh Doctor.

Thus far – trawling the text messages, twitter updates and Facebook comments on the subject – opinion seems to be mixed on Mat Smith’s appointment.

Personally, my initial assessment that he should get his haircut like I was the moment my friend Peter texted me to tell me seems a little rash. He could be quite an interesting chap. Can’t wait. Roll on 2010.

I’m feeling torn, however. As big and exciting and strangely overwhelming this piece of entertainment news has been (and believe me, I have been swept along by announcements and anticipation and fear and loathing and anxiety and the rest of it), my attention is fixed firmly on another programme going out on BBC One later this evening.

In fact, it’s only twenty or so minutes away before the UK Eurovision bus gets underway in the first installment for Your Country Needs You.

Sometimes I tut and sigh when I realise that pretty much the only things I write about are things on TV. Can’t I find other inspiration from another source?

The answer is no. Eurovision is a subject close to my heart. Eurovision is a TV show which guarantees to deliver anticipation, joy, excitement, hope, fear and (if the past few years are anything to go by) intense feelings of disappointment. Fortunately these feelings have not been inflicted on anyone close to me.

The point is, that the hideous sack of emotions which accompanies the Eurovision season (Will we stand a chance this year? Could we do it? Could we possibly get a chance to host it again next year? Will we have a decent song? Will we have a decent performer? Will we come last? Will I still enjoy it?) normally starts around about March time. There’s normally a lull around about the beginning of April before the run up to the main event starts in earnest in mid-April. That’s when the endless nights spent gnawing at my own fingernails and making copious notes and thinking and dreaming and whatever else starts.

It’s agony. Just ask the significant other. He’ll tell you.

This year it’s set to be a whole lot worse. The UK Eurovision bus sets off this evening. And you might as well know that I’m absolutely petrified.

Sad isn’t it. It’s just a TV show. It’s just a talent search. It’s a talent search for someone to represent the UK in a European “talent” search or “show contest”. That individual or group will have a mere 3 minutes to sell their wares to the voting public and expert juries across Europe in May. All we’re talking about is finding someone to do something for three minutes in a bid to win the event, host the event in the UK the following year and thus keep Jon Jacob happy and quiet for the forseeable future.

What’s the big deal? Why is it so important Jacob?

I have absolutely no idea.