Did you know…?

Harrison Ford in Coronation StreetStar Wars and Indiana Jones film star, Harrison Ford, who was born Richard Gibbons, got the inspiration for his screen name from a car dealership in Barnsley, South Yorkshire. The idea came to him during a visit to his Auntie Marjorie’s, who lived in the town, in 1967. His first choice, which was later scrapped by Hollywood Executives, had been Slaithwaite Skoda, under which name he appears in a number of episodes of Coronation Street, playing American Hippy art student Jimbo Atkins in the July of that year. Jimbo lodged for a time with Street goodtime girl Elsie Tanner until he was ‘busted’ by the police for growing cannabis in the loft and abstracting Minnie Caldwell’s electricity following an anonymous tip off.

Your Country Needs You

I recently had a trip up to the Menwith Hill visitor centre in North Yorkshire. In the gift shop are a series of propaganda posters that didn’t make it. This from a recruitment drive for Land Girls in 1942. Left with only women to work the land, The Ministry for Food were trying to staff turnip farms in Lincolnshire and decided to appeal to an under-represented minority:

Land2

God Save the Queen’s

HRHCOPY

In December 1976 the Sex Pistols appeared on Bill Grundy’s Today programme. In one short interview broadcast mid-morning and barely lasting two minutes they used the word ‘fuck’ three times, ‘shit’ twice, with ‘bastard’ and ‘sod’ being drawled out once apiece. Contrary to popular myth, and despite the witness testimony of fifty thousand would-be-cognoscenti who claim to have been in the Pebble Mill audience that day, they did not say ‘cunt’ at all. Neither did any member of the seminal punk group employ the epithet ‘cock wrangler’.

It was a watershed moment. Not least for poor old Bill Grundy who, following immediate suspension by Thames Television, found his programme axed less than two months later. His career never recovered. In the shambles Bill managed to get one ‘shit’ out himself, so to speak, on air. This was as the credits rolled and he realized what a fuck up he’d made.

Britain was appalled. The filth and the fury.

Mary Whitehouse began her campaign to ‘Clean up TV’ in 1963, shocked, apparently, by the sight of John Lennon’s fringe on Ready, Steady, Go! Two years later she founded the National Viewers and Listeners Association. Like Churchill banging Drake’s Drum in the dark days of the late 1930s, warning a lethargic nation of the brooding menace posed by Hitler and fascism, Whitehouse’s was a timely intervention in the war against filth. On Saturday 13th November 1965 Kenny Tynan, arts critic, darling of the literary left and sado-masochistic arse spanker, dropped the verbal atom bomb on an unsuspecting nation when he was the first person to utter the word ‘fuck’ on British television. We were stunned. The word would not be heard again in the 1960s. Even come Year Zero and the Bromley Contingent’s appearance with Bill Grundy on that frosty morning late in 1976, Steve Jones – the arch fucker – was only the third person to unleash the vulgar slang word – verb (1) have sexual intercourse with. (2) damage or ruin, noun an act of sexual intercourse, exclamation a strong expression of annoyance or contempt – on the British viewing public.

Between 17th October 2008 and 23rd October 2008 the Sunday Telegraph conducted what it describes as an ‘investigation’ into the use of expletives in programmes broadcast just after the 9PM watershed. In other words somebody counted them. It found that in that seven day period ‘f??? and its derivatives was used 88 times, s??? 26 times and p??? 13 times.’ Eh? Fish derivatives? Like croquettes…? Oh, no, they mean ‘fuck’. Fuck, fucking, fucker, fucked.

It is not surprising that two programmes that featured, for lazy lack of a better word, the ‘worst’ language in the Sunday Telegraph’s round up were Traffic Cops and Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food, both of which give the essentially middle-class, Radio Times-reading viewer a glimpse of the booze-swilling, skunk-tonking, Burberry clad underclass. You can almost smell the stale body sweat masked by knock-off Armani Code coming through the phosphors, can’t you, Sandra? Almost, but not quite.

Jamie Oliver’s programme managed to get the ‘f’ word out twenty-three times in one episode. It’s a cookery programme, for fuck’s sake! In response to criticms the programme makers – left-kicking Channel 4 – declared that it has ‘a duty to reflect real lives and people’. Or does it find itself propagating a standard of living as being acceptable? That woman on the TV told her son to fuck off, so I’ll tell mine to fuck off. ‘Ere, Diesel, fuck off!

TV teaches. TV instructs. TV standardizes.

And therein lies the toe to toe fist fight between Mary Whitehouse in the blue corner and Kenneth Tynan in the red.

Like it or lump it, television is an influence on the way we live our lives. Pernicious or otherwise. We do not watch it passively. And under its auspices, to my mind, some of the most subversive and morally corrupting television in Britain can be found in speciously comfortable middle-class sitcoms, populated in a surburban neverneverland by Mum, Dad and their precocious progeny. One thirty minute episode of Robert Lindsay’s My Family is more damaging to the parent/child relationship than the entire back catalogue of Steptoe & Son. It portrays a stereotypical image of the family containing dysfunctional parents attempting to maintain a relationship with their increasingly mercenary children through cash. This concept is repeated in the appalling Nicholas Lyndhurst vehicle After you’ve gone. It’s also the main boot up the arse to the plot in virtually every episode of The Upper Hand that was ever broadcast. And on and on and on. Consequently today in modern Britain the ungracious rapacity of comfortable middle-class kids has become an acceptable norm. This Christmas I’m going to max out my credit card getting the kids the latest PSP5i and that talking, shitting, stuffed chimpanzee ‘Boogie Ben’. Why? Because that’s what happens on TV. So to be a good parent means that you have to buy your children’s love, respect and affection regardless of how you actually behave and interact with them? The more you spend, the better the parent you are…? To paraphrase Steve Jones: You stupid fucker!

And has any other programme done more to erode marital values than Terry & June? Hen-pecked husband who is treated in a dismissive, patronisingly indulgent way by his wife, who in turn is wrote off by her husband as being technically inept and easy to shut up by slipping her a box of Milk Tray and some man pipe at the end of every episode? How many people now play out that particular dynamic in the their own relationship to some degree or another?

The effect of TV’s depiction of violence, sex, bad language or whatever on behaviour is not immediate. But it is invidious. The question is would we have television reflect life as it is or life as we would like it to be? And who are ‘we’? Deep thoucus, man. What moral code is acceptable? The line for me is when it becomes gratuitous. There for the sake of it. To shock. Or to convert me to some other fucker’s view of life by breaking down my own ideals. But the line is subjective. Contextual. That said, I don’t want to watch some Mockney chef chuntering: ‘Get some fucking greens in the pan, you daft cunt!’ at half past nine of a Tuesday evening. What the fuck would Fanny Craddock think?

Like a Virgin (touched for the very first time)

Sir Richard Branson has abandoned his attempt to cross the Atlantic in a single-hulled vessel. The bearded multi-millionaire was aiming to break yet another record.

Branson’s record attempts added a bit of colour to the generally bleak news of the 1980s. Jan Leeming getting worked up as she told of the dangers from towering waves and rescues from shark infested waters off the Azores. Sandy Gall forever in a Safari suit, a bottle of Black Label under the news desk, slurring over his words to describe Branson’s balloon capacity. In 1986 Branson snatched the coveted Blue Riband (yep, I thought it was a biscuit – or is it a bar? – as well) by making the fastest crossing of the Atlantic in a boat. A year later, the Pet Shop Boys ‘West End Girls’ sound-tracking the venture, he crossed the Atlantic again, this time in a hot air balloon. No one had ever done that before.

These are feckless adventures that hark back to another age. When men with huge lamb chop sideburns would head off in search of somewhere to make it more real by being the first Caucasians to light up a cigarette there. Stood to attention next to a fluttering Union Jack, singing ‘God save the Queen’ to make the discovery official and legally binding. Often they only found themselves lending their names to new and deadly tropical diseases. It was the industrial age of discovery. The days of Empire when Britain had accomplished all her ambitions. Phineas Fogg making a wild bet from a Chesterfield arm chair in some smoky gentlemen’s club to travel around the world whilst hopping, Percy Fawcett trudging off into the jungle to find the lost city of gold. But back then the globe was a mystery. Where did the Nile begin? What was beyond the Atlas mountains? Which is the nearest long stay car park for Bradford’s Media Museum? These days Google Maps have sorted all that.

So why does Branson do these things? He has pots of money, his endeavors in business and the arts have made him famous in themselves and by most people’s calculations his life has been a success. So why? Perhaps Robert Louis Stephenson’s observation hits the mark: ‘to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.’ Accomplishment is a void. Triumph a post-orgasmic doldrum. And so Branson lies under his duvet, a model of his latest Pendolino tilting train spooned against his cooling body. And he thinks, ‘But what now?’

My abiding image of Branson is not his spraying champagne over a Boeing 737 as he launches Virgin Atlantic or a publicity shot with Johnny Rotten, Steve and the boys when he signed the Sex Pistols, it is in an over-enlarged photograph blue tac’d proudly in the window of a Curry House in Cowes on the Isle of Wight. It shows the beaming owner of the restaurant, bald head caught in the flash, a huge smile, grasping Branson’s unwitting hand. Branson’s almost out of the door and the handshake looks like a baton handover in the 4 x 400 metres. A bemused and vaguely scared look on Branson’s face as he nervously regards the proprietor. Bloody hell! Look who it is! Sanjay, the camera! The goatee-wearing businessman nearly out of shot. Mr. Patak launches himself, hand outstretched. Death grip applied. Quick, Sanjay! Take it now! It’s Rick Wakeman!

Richard

Sir Richard Branson ponders his next adventure

The Physical Limitations of Life in the Mind of Someone Looking

Pandas

It looks like an art installation. 1,600 papier mâché pandas milling about at the foot of Eiffel Tower. Some staring up at the tower, curious. Others with an eye out for a bit of bamboo. Herded in the long Autumn sunshine. It has the uniformity of pop art. Reminiscent of Antony Gormley’s ‘Field’.

It should be art, but it isn’t. Or is it?

It first appears that there are loads of them. Black and white with pot bellies. Until you realize that what you see in one glance represents the entire population of giant pandas living wild in the world. It’s as if the village where I live were it for the human species (a worrying thought). The rest of the earth empty.

The display is a publicity campaign by the French wing of the World Wide Fund For Nature. They set up the pandas with each appearing in Paris in place of a living panda from the wild. It’s impressive. Both aesthetically and as a message. Consequently as art it succeeds for me where ‘My Bed’ by Tracey Emin and avant garde charlatan Damien Hirst’s preserved Tiger Shark failed dismally.

I recently adopted a tiger. Malu Pothi. I’m not sure how far my £3 a month goes towards Malu’s upkeep, but I’ll give it a go. Looking at that dwindling mob in Paris, I think I need to help out a panda as well.

Bad advertising?

Dear Progressive Safety!

As you are one of the UK’s leading distributors of safety footwear, protective work wear, personal protective equipment and workplace safety products, I felt I needed to get in touch with you following an encounter with one of your employees.

To set the scene for you, I was driving along Rotherham Road, Barnsley on Monday afternoon at 1PM, the new Oasis album on the stereo (not bad in places but not a five star performance) doing a steady 35mph when I came to the point where Rotherham Road is intersected by a Give Way at Cliffe Lane, Monk Bretton.

I was about twenty yards from the junction, travelling towards Cundy Cross, and was aware of a red van moving from my left along Cliffe Lane, approaching the Give Way. ‘He’ll stop at the junction,’ I thought to myself, humming along with Liam. The fella approached the junction, looked at me, looked back at the junction and kept on trucking without any attempt to stop, slow or give way, causing me to brake considerably. Liam missed the note and I almost found myself in the back of the PSF van along with the boxes of Concept Full Peak Vented Helmets, Nato 50/50 Deluxe Weight Wool Mix Jumpers, Eurotec Bodywarmers and Moldex dust respirators.

I’m not sure if it was the sunshine that did him and he needed a pair of Crackerjack CE EN166 1FT Scratch resistant, polycarbonate lens, non-fog, ultra lightweight, night blue temples (CEBA non-scratch only) gigs on, but I thought the front of my Audi was a goner.

Now if this is a new advertising ploy I must say it’s been met with only mixed success. Admittedly I am now aware of your company – given that the tip of my car’s bonnet was almost inseparable from the back of the Vito (registration mark YR05 UZG) where all your details were emblazoned – however also given that my heartbeat had now been raised to that of a lion-startled gazelle and my blood pressure had been sent through the roof, I did feel a certain degree of antagonism between myself and your company’s representative due to his blatantly anti-social manouevre. This particular publicity stratagem had a negative affect.

Now, we can all make mistakes and obviously he’d got his PSF Task Force TF1SM boots on. No acceleration control with those steel toe-cappers! But if you could get him to remove the Bilsom Thunder® T1 Dual Dielectric ear protectors for a few seconds and drop him a Health and Safety approved volume level word about his driving I’d appreciate it.

Progressive he may have been – safe he wasn’t!

Best wishes.

PENDING REPLY

Things I hate #4

Football. I used to love football at school. Jumpers for goalposts, chopping the legs off some kid from a rival form in sickeningly brutal tackle, one man Wembley, curving pass to the tall lad whose hormones had woken up early and made the rest of us look like hairless dwarves. But that was playing. From one bell to the other we’d be kicking each other up in the air, crafty shimmies, dropping the shoulder, artful feints, going past three, sneaky elbows, catching the trailing leg of some fucker who thought he was Zico streaking down the wing. That said, sexy game though Ruud Gullit may believe it to be, football is not porn. Watching it does not encourage me to take part myself. And my days of trap, dribble, shoot! are gone.

At work I’m surrounded by canteen pundits. Dave and Tim, the Saint & Greavsie of tea break. Johnny doing his Gary Linekar Football Focus spiel over a cheese bap. Each with their own loyalty to some local ‘firm’. The Tarn, the Blades, the Owls, Donny Whites, the Mighty Millers, Dirty Leeds. But the thing is, I sense that these men were shit at the game when they were at school. Always picked last, ‘toe bunging’ passes at oblique angles, screaming foul when they got scythed down by a perfectly honest sliding tackle. But now, thanks to Sky+ and parroting the words of Alan Hansen, they’re all experts. I think Tommo needs to use a squarer back four. He’s playing Matty too wide, the lad’s natural game is on the instep, the long ball is a blind alley when it comes to youth development but Ritchie just can’t see it… Every burst of Sky Sports 1 with Vicky Gomersall (phwoar!) is like a testosterone shot in the arse. England internationals dissected and discussed like the battle plan of the Somme; the resemblance is there, I’ll give ‘em that. Chest slapping masculinity. I know about football, I’m one of the lads, OK so I secretly fancy Joe Cole but I’m still a bloke’s bloke… Bollocks. You’re just an annoying fucker. Now switch the telly over and let’s have some Murder She Wrote.

And then there are the players and clubs themselves.

One can ask what is the effect of a large reward on the perception of a pleasant task. The answer is unequivocal: it devalues the task in the eyes of those performing it. Nursery school children were provided in their playtime with brightly coloured Magic Markers and attractive drawing paper. Those who showed an interest in drawing were subsequently given the same apparatus in the classroom and encouraged to draw. One group was promised a glossy certificate for good drawing, while another group was given no reward. Two weeks later the material was again provided and the children were told it was up to them whether they wanted to draw or not. The group previously given the certificate showed a marked decline in interest, while the other group drew as much as they had done in the previous two sessions. Presumably the children thought that drawing could not be much of much interest in its own right if a reward was needed to make them engage in it.

From Irrationality by Stuart Sutherland

Jules Rimet is no longer gleaming. English Premier League footballers were recently polled and asked which award they would most like to win. Of those that spoke English and could understand what the pollster was on about 5% opted for the World Cup, a further 7% said they’re dream was to lift the Premier League trophy. A whopping, overwhelming 87% stated that the highest point in their career would be to receive – at a lavish bash surrounded by their envious peers – Hello! magazine’s best haircut of the year.

If the Magic Markers were on offer again, Wayne Rooney said he was hoping to bag a bit of wall space on Tony Hart’s Gallery and celebrate with a gummy one from some Granny in the Piccadilly area of Manchester.

The Premier League clubs are huge corporate leviathans. Humourless and remote from the indigenous fans. Owned by billionaire football dilettantes or anonymous corporations out to diversify, to get some tax relief, to add a cool club badge to their portfolio. Staffed by players who have no loyalty or pride in the club they represent. No sense of history. When Brazilian Robinho moved to Manchester City from Real Madrid for £32½ million in September 2008 he immediately endeared himself to the faithful and indicated his passion & commitment to the club by telling them how chuffed he was to be playing for Chelsea. Oops, I meant Manchester… Erm… Looks at his agent. Manchester City. City? City. Yeah, Manchester City! Big smile, hold the shirt aloft, flash photography. Job done.

I remember when John Barnes (fucking useless, let’s face it) was on £800 a week at Liverpool. Back in the late 80s. A lot of money for the day, a lot of money today. But not hugely excessive. Man-bag obsessed Cristiano Ronaldo is on contract for £120,000 per week at Manchester United. A hundred and twenty thousand pounds. Every fucking week. A worker on minimum wage in the UK won’t pull this amount of money in over the course of a decade. And this bloke gets that every week for playing a game. Even poor old John Barnes would have had to keep on playing until 2140 to claw in what Ronaldo takes home a year. And with Graham Taylor in charge he’d probably have got the chance.

OK, I can see the argument. The club is generating income through the work I do, why shouldn’t I take a decent percentage of the money it earns? The wage bill of most clubs is now over 50% of income. It has logic to it. And certainly before 1961 and the days of the Player’s Maximum wage when even top flight legends like Stanley Matthews and Nat Lofthouse were only allowed to take home £20 a week the system was wrong. But a ‘we’re the masters now’ philosophy has ripped the heart out of the game and distanced the players from the people who go through the turnstiles to watch them perform. Because surely not many people will agree with FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s comments over the recent Man U/Real Madrid spat concerning Ronaldo: ‘There is this slavery in transferring or buying players here and there.’ Slavery? Just a sec, didn’t Ronaldo sign the contract himself? And it’s not the fucking Bay City Rollers we’re talking about here. Evil managers signing away the souls of impressionable teenagers. Stick your name down on this bit of paper, Les, I’m going to make you a star… Och aye! No, Ronaldo is surrounded by a coterie of advisors and middle men. Agents, lawyers, a stylist, tarot car reader, foot spa plugger-in-er. He knew exactly what he was getting himself into and his petulant boot stamping sums up the spoilt, self-obsessed attitude of the typical footballer these days. They behave like over-grown children.

Which brings me to my next gripe. We are in an age where children are bred for sport. Like pedigree dogs or Champion vegetables whose growth is forced under glass. The Williams sisters in tennis. Ivan Lendl – the most boring but most successful of 80s tennis stars – chained to the court by his dominating mother. Tiger Woods in golf. Virtually every player in today’s Premier League. The parents have a goal – vicarious, avaricious, take your pick – and the children are groomed to achieve that ends. Which perhaps goes some way to explain the lack of personalities in modern sport. There are no George Best’s in the Premier League, no Rodney Marsh’s, not even resilient hard nuts like Billy Bremner. And, like him or not, it’s unlikely that we’ll see the likes of Paul Gascoigne again. So much effort has been expended on technique, fitness and a regime for success that no time was spent on developing a personality. Can you honestly imagine having a good laugh with David Beckham? Enjoying being in the company of Peter Crouch? Sharing a naan with Joey Barton over a super-strength Cobra? David Beckham is no Bobby Moore or even high-kicking, Rimbaud quoting Eric Cantona. He’s a brand name. And like all footballers brand obsessed. David Beckham Ltd. Frank Lampard Plc. Roy Keane, the Old Trafford legend who lambasted, amongst other footballing aberrations, Manchester United’s executive box dwelling fans (‘the prawn sandwich brigade’), summed up the modern player: ‘These so-called big stars are people we are supposed to be looking up to. Well, they are weak and soft.’

Then again, would you have bought Nobby Stiles signature collection aftershave?

SAL Panini 81 copy