Sunday, 29 January 2012

Book Review: The Kenneth Williams Diaries

"The preoccupation with diary writing is caused by various things: the desire to keep a record which can be useful later, and committing to paper what can't be communicated to a mentor... oh! all kinds of reasons, but fundamentally it is about loneliness."
Kenneth Williams, Diaries, Tuesday 8 March 1988
Having grown up without a telly, I knew Kenneth Williams primarily through Just a Minute. In later years, I became acquainted with the Carry On films, Round the Horne and H-H-Hancock's Half Hour.

There was, of course, much more to Williams' oeuvre than these examples, although it is fair to say that these are the things he is best known for. His career took in a period in the far east in forces entertainment, repertory and West End theatre and, latterly, work as a raconteur, author and regular chat show guest (and occasional host.) There was also a lot of voice over work over the years.

His diaries, published in 1993, were edited from over forty years of volumes that he kept from 1942 until his death in 1988 by Russell Davies. Mr Davies himself is mentioned in the diary on several occasions - never, it has to be said, in particularly glowing terms. The task was somewhat Herculean in nature but is achieved with skill and distinction. I got the impression that the diaries have been fairly edited to provide a rounded view of Williams, warts and all. The picture that emerges is one of a complex character, a man who was never truly at ease - with his sexuality, his work choices, his finances or with other people.

His temperament - professionally, publicly and privately - was prickly and this is reflected in the diaries. At times, though, he was acutely conscious that his behaviour was out of order and records making an apology or resolves so to do.

His personal life revolved around his mother - whose accommodation he took care of financially from quite early on in his career - and a handful of friends. His various friendships were frequently fraught and few people escape criticism at some juncture. Indeed, the only person who does seem to come through the diaries unscathed is Dame Maggie Smith who is first mentioned when they were both in the revue show "Share My Lettuce" in 1957.

Politically, Williams - having initially been a socialist - was a Tory (albeit with a brief dalliance to voting Liberal in 1966) and seems to have become quite illiberal in later life - unfavourable references to "Negroes" and "wogs" occur although like everything, anything said at any given point is liable to future contradiction. It's a disappointing development in the light of this entry - one of my favourites - from 1971:
"You can't keep sneering at Liberalism without also sneering at what is best and dearest in English society." 
Tuesday 14th December 1971
Sexually, the younger Williams seems to have simultaneously desired and reviled from intimate relations - he records his personal fantasies as being quite violent in nature. In practice, it appears that such contact was limited in both quantity and quality and led, almost invariably, to expressions of self-loathing and depressive bouts. His real desire was to for love and companionship but he was unable to open up to anyone sufficiently for this to be a real possibility.

His depressive spells were a recurring feature of his life - and not just in the sexual arena. He repetitively despairs of life and mentions his jar of pills which he maintains for the purpose of leaving the world. For most of the diaries, these entries can be followed by hugely optimistic ones before life returns to a more normal pattern for a while. Towards the end, however, as two years of stomach ulcers take their toll, the frequency of these entries and the seriousness with which he examines the prospect increase. The inquest only had sight of the last diary entry and returned an open verdict. Who's to say they wouldn't have come to another conclusion with sight of more of the diaries.

The book contains a biographical introduction and appendices detailing the addresses Williams lived at, the films he references in the diaries and an extensive index. I felt it could have benefited from a list of his various jobs over the years and some form of Dramatis Personae as a reference to the hundreds of people mentioned in the diaries. Indeed, now two decades have passed since publication, it may be possible for those not specifically named to now be so - and for the diaries to be re-edited with less fear of the libel laws.

I thoroughly recommend the diaries to anyone interested in Williams' career or the history of theatre and light entertainment in Britain.

P.S. You can read previous blog on some of his diary entries here.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Dexter, my new found telly love

I am one of the most squeamish people I know and the older I get, the more squeamish I've become. 

I can't watch Horror films - although I do like a good thriller and am alright with a little bit of gratuitous violence now and again. I can't do out and out graphic violence, I can't watch real life medical shows, I can barely watch Casualty for that matter! 

Now, readers of this blog could be forgiven for being slightly confused, as I've previously posted about my love of TrueBlood. After all, there's plenty of blood and gore in that, isn't there?

This was the view of one of my friends who was so convinced I would like Dexter, she bought me the first series for my birthday. I was still very apprehensive about watching it - TrueBlood involves suspending disbelieve and embracing a world of Vampires, Werewolves and Fairies but Serial Killers are real. Creatures of the night are fictional, killers in the night are all too real.

The show is built around the eponymous Dexter, a Blood Splatter analyst within the Miami PD. But Dexter is also a serial killer who has managed to control his instincts, thanks to the advice and support of his late Father. Well, I say control... he applies a strict rule of only killing those who truly deserve it. The arc storyline involves the police force (for whom his sister is an officer) investigating a serial killer. But the killer in question seems to be engaging in his own mind games, teasing Dexter at every turn...

I finally started watching it at the beginning of this year and I was soon hooked! The series is intelligent, witty, well scripted, acted and directed. As the show is on the Showcase subscription channel, the episodes are made to be viewed without adverts and the pacing isn't timed to provide cliffhangers every ten minutes. This allows each episode to unfold in a more unnatural fashion, adding greatly to my enjoyment. 

Yes, there are some gory moments, but for the most part the violence is stylised and/or suggested. There's an underlying menace at times but there are also moments of pathos and tenderness as well as drama, tension and intrigue. 

It won't be for everyone but if you think you've got the stomach for it, I'd thoroughly recommend it.

Here are a couple of videos to give you a flavour:



Thursday, 26 January 2012


Once upon a time, there was a boy who loved Kylie. He had a poster of her on his wall and remembers his joy at receiving his first album, the self-titled "Kylie".

Then the nineties happened and the boy in question became quite sniffy about pop music... Not because he was into anything too leftfield or outre - quite the contrary - but he considered himself too grown up.

This period coincided with a difficult decade for la Minogue as she sought credibility but lost her commercial appeal. 

Fast-forward to the early 21st century and the boy had chosen to embrace his latent love of pop and Kylie, with the aid of a pair of Gold Lamé hotpants, has exploded back onto the pop scene.

Like Madonna, Kylie has managed to reinvent herself for successive albums. She's had her ups and downs and managed to emerge stronger. Unlike Madonna, she doesn't have as an aggressive as business edge and a much more human touch.

It's hard to believe that it's 25 years since Locomotion and I Should Be So Lucky. To mark the occasion, Ms Minogue has planned a year of treats for fans. It may all be a bit self-indulgent but who can grudge Kylie her chance to celebrate 25 years in the pop?

The first of the treats is a new version of 1992's Finer Feelings, recorded at Abbey Road. This is rather special:

There's more on the revamped website, including a great timeline.


Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Ae Fond Kiss for Burns' Nicht

I've had my Haggis, Neeps and Tatties for tea, I'll be having a wee dram later, and I thought I'd do a belated post to celebrate this, the 253rd anniversary of the birth of Scotland's bard, Rabbie Burns.

Here's the fabulous Eddi Reader (who can also be found on my blog here) with a divine version of Ae Fond Kiss. Enjoy:


NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 16

After cheating (slightly) last week, there's only going to be one track this week. It was a close run thing between Tears for Fears with "Sowing the Seeds of Love" and my eventual choice. 

Featuring the fabulous Ms. Marcella Detroit, here's Shakespear's Sister with You're History:


Sunday, 22 January 2012

In which the widow answers The Question

Over on The State of the Nation UK, Stephen has started a new series called "The Question". Each month he will invite fellow bloggers to answer a question and submit links via his blog. They - and anyone else, of course - can then read the varying interpretations of, and answers to, the question posed.

This month, the question is:

"What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?"

Once upon a time I had a dream. Like many dreams, it started with "If money were no object..." or "If I won the lottery...". It was also a shared dream which a friend and I had many conversations about. That dream was to run a restaurant.

The restaurant business is notoriously difficult with a high failure rate. The hours are long and work is hard. Getting it right relies on providing both the right product and the right service. It can be difficult to get it right and much too easy to get it wrong. It's a world - along with hotels and pubs - which attracts vanity investment and an "how hard can it be? attitude."

Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares (the UK business-orientated version of the 2000's as opposed to the more recent US version which is a completely different beast) and Raymond Blanc's The Restaurant illustrated many of the pitfalls which the would-be restaurateur can fall into. The later also provide an object lesson in the joint importance of the back and front of house operations. Good food counts for little with bad service and no-one wants fast service if their duck is still raw on the plate...

So I'm under no illusions that running a successful restaurant wouldn't be easy. Even if failure weren't an option, success would still take a lot of hard work. And there is a difference. It's one thing not to fail but I'd want to be achieve more than that - a reputation, good reviews, referrals, repeat business. Recommendations, awards, additional branches, a cook school, Michelin stars...

For now, it remains a (pipe) dream. Money remains very much an object, the lottery win has not been forthcoming. And my friend and I have still not settled our argument about who would be in the kitchen and who would be front of house...


Now, click here read the other entries.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Confide in my Wonderful Life...

Whilst I was getting the You Tube video for this week's Sunday Sound (Black's Wonderful Life), I came across Hurts' song of the same title. Although working in a genre of music (Electronic Pop) I like, they have managed to mostly pass me by. I decided, therefore, that I'd spend some time getting acquainted with them which I have done and I can pronounce myself well pleased.

One of their tracks (Devotion) features a certain Australian Pop Princess, currently celebrating 25 years in the business. Here is said Pop Princess performing a cover of Wonderful Life whilst in Radio 1's Live Lounge in 2010:

Ms. Minogue is not the only one to playing at the covers game... here are Hurts with Confide In Me:



Wednesday, 18 January 2012

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 15 Part 2

After I'd decided on Jive Bunny earlier I went back for another look at the list of tracks on NOW! 15 to discover that, in addition to all the other potential candidates, I'd completely failed to notice Mr. Holly Johnson was on the list with the fantastic Americanos. So, just for you, here it is:


NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 15

Often when I'm reading, I notice unexpected connections between books - a common reference or location, the use of a particularly unusual word or phrase. These connections between books apparently chosen at random, albeit from a subset of published litrature entitled "Books Andrew Wants To Read", lend a superficial  and arbitary structure and narritive to my reading.

There is something of a parralel in the choosing of tracks for this series of posts. There will be links and themes that surface from the choices I make from the subset of music which is "Tracks From NOW! Albums That Andrew Likes". The difference, of course, is that I am consciously making the decisions and am therefore aware when I am creating these links and narritives.

Last week, I mentioned my love of the sixties... this week I've continued with that theme with Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers. Yes, I'm aware this is a bit naff (and yes, I'm aware that nobody uses the word "naff" anymore) but it's of its time and it's my choice:


Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Tuesday Titter 16

Whilst I was selecting Sunday's Sunday Sound, You Tube suggested the following video to me. It's a piece of Ballet choreographed by Matthew Bourne of Swan Lake fame. My first thought was to use it for a stand-alone entry but it wasn't long before I realised it would be perfect as a Tuesday Titter (although it is around 9 minutes long in total.)

Anyway, enjoy!


Monday, 16 January 2012

Plus ça change...

I'm currently reading Kenneth Williams' diaries which I'm enjoying but, it has to be said, is a pretty hefty tome! I intend to review it on completion.

Throughout, however, there have been a number of moments where things have been said which could have been written in the last year, rather than in the fifties, sixties or seventies (I'm currently up to 1978). Here's just three examples which have stuck in my mind.

First, an excerpt from an extended entry regarding his purpose in professional life and a section which discusses the Arts Council, although that is not what grabbed me about this particular bit, as will be clear:
"Of course, like so much else which starts out nobly (viz. News of the World newspaper) it seems that the years lend corruption and lay a glazed meaning or interpretation over original motives."
Friday-Wednesday 2nd-7th February 1951
Next, an excerpt which could have relevance in today's economic climate:
"Went in to Louie [his mother] and saw the State Opening of Parliament on TV. It was terribly funny. The Queen in fabulous robes talking about 'my government's need to economise because of balance of payments deficits' and wearing a Crown with enough precious stones to raise several millions."
Tuesday 29th October 1974
(That entry concludes with "When she came to the bit about a Wealth Tax, I thought she ought to stop, point to the crown and say, 'I hope you're not going to include this?' It would have got a big laugh.")

Finally, I imagine we'll see sentiment to this effect from some quarters a little later in the year:
"Everything seems utterly bleak to me and all these jubilee celebrations malapropos; in a time of economic recession, the Queen should have set an example of austerity: thousands of pounds wasted on processions and bonfires, which could have been used for better purposes."
Tuesday 7th June 1977
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. That's your actual French, that is.


Sunday, 15 January 2012

Sunday Sounds 32

This week's Sunday Sound is a(nother) classic from the late eighties... here's Black with Wonderful Life:


Wednesday, 11 January 2012

The Question - coming on January 22nd

Question: What do you do when you end a long running and successful blog series? Well, you start another one, of course!

Regular readers will know that on the 5th of every month, I used to contribute to a photo-sharing series, 5 on the 5th. Now the brain behind that collective blogging experience has come up with "The Question". The concept is simple - a question is set which bloggers from all over the bloggersphere will interpret and answer it as they see fit. Having published their post, they put a link on Stephen's blog and read the other contributions.

The various responses should then generate a debate and/or shared experiences across several blogs and their comments sections. The first question to be answered is:
What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?
So, get your thinking cap on, your virtual quill poised and your ink well (real or imagined) filled... On your marks, get set, go... 


You can read more over on Stephen's blog itself!

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 14

When I was growing up Pop Music, whilst not entirely Verboten, was not exactly encouraged in our household. Sounds of the Sixties on the wireless was allowed, though...

As a consequence, I grew up with a love of sixties music but largely oblivious to the trends of my childhood - punk and the new romantics. It wasn't until I was a teenager (from about '87 onwards) that I took to listening to the radio for myself, going to bed with Radio Scotland's nightly music programming.

As a result, the period covered by the last few (and next few) NOW! albums represent some of my formative music listening years. I mentioned last week that there were a number of tracks I could have chosen from NOW! XIII and the same can be said for NOW! 14. I could have easily chosen any one of the following tracks:

  1. Phil Collins: "Two Hearts"
  2. Erasure: Stop
  3. Bananarama & LaNaNeeNeeNooNoo: "Help!"
  4. Hue & Cry: "Looking for Linda"
  5. Yazz: "Fine Time"
  6. Sam Brown: "Stop!"
  7. Roy Orbison: "You Got It"
  8. Fine Young Cannibals: "She Drives Me Crazy"
  9. INXS: "Need You Tonight"
  10. Morrissey: "The Last of the Famous International Playboys"
  11. Poison: "Every Rose Has It's Thorn"
  12. Simple Minds: "Belfast Child"
  13. Neneh Cherry: "Buffalo Stance"
  14. Robin Beck: "The First Time"
  15. Paula Abdul: "Straight Up"
  16. Michael Ball: "Love Changes Everything"

The track that I have chosen, though, betrays that early love (or "indoctrination") of the music of the sixties:


Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Tuesday Titter 15 - Ve Have Vays Of Making You Laugh...

I was reminded of this week's purveyor of mirth, whom I have previously only heard on the wireless, when I found a flyer advertising an imminent performance in Bristol. Henning Wehn is a German comedian who has cornered the market for German comedians in Britain. Here he is being introduced by Stewart Lee and telling a couple of gags which he proceeds to deconstruct:


Monday, 9 January 2012

Books of 2011

Last year I read 25 books which wasn't bad given that I had a bit of a reading lull for several months around about Spring and early Summer.

As ever I tried to read eclectically and, with the help of the (free) Kindle app for PC and Phone, I was also able to finally read some classics! Here are pics of the covers of all the books read, courtesy of Goodreads:

I try to read one Booker Prize winner a year, in 2011 it was Anne Enright's excellent The Gathering, which I reviewed here. This was followed by the wonderful The Diving Bell and the Butterfly which demonstrates the indomitability of the Human Spirit. Next up was my first Iain M Banks' (as opposed to Iain Banks) novel; the space opera Consider Phlebus. Nigel Slater's book of culinary reminiscences, Eating For England was followed by Charlaine Harris' Living Dead in Dallas, the second of the Southern Vampire Mysteries which are now the basis of Trueblood.

Eoin Colfer's authorised addition to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series was the first disappointing book of the year and I followed this up with Club Dead, another Trueblood book. Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book is simply fantastic - I'd thoroughly recommend it to children of all ages. A Spot of Bother fails to reach the heights of Mark Haddon's first book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time but was still an enjoyable read. Mrs Fry's Diary was fun enough but possibly stretched the central joke a bit too thinly.

I really loved The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne and also enjoyed Lance Armstrong's It's Not About the Bike which gave me a greater insight into team cycling, as well as Lance Armstrong's life. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was the first of the Kindle novels I read and marked the start of me having two books on the go at once (as opposed to my previously monogamous ways. John le Carré's Our Kind of Traitor (which was a gift) was the second Le Carré I've read and another disappointment. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland plugged another gap in my knowledge of classic tales.

I'm sure I read The Jungle Book as a kid (and I love the Disney film too, of course) but it was good to re-read it. A Song of Stone was another re-read, as I gradually work through my Iain Banks books again - and anticipate Stonemouth which I already have on order ahead of its release on the 5th April! Jon McGregor's If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things is remarkable in concept, structure and execution. The Little Prince is a beautiful book and a modern fable whilst The Spy Who Came in from the Cold finally saw me read a good le Carré.

More Holmes followed - I simply love the exquisitely constructed puzzles - and then Wilde's The Importance of Being Ernest which is an exquisitely constructed farce. Charlie Higson's second Young Bond novel, Blood Fever, was even better than the first - another one for kids of all ages. The late Douglas Adams' escapades with Mark Cawardine in search of endangered species is by turns funny, touching, infuriating and sad. At the end of the year I finally read some Dickens (A Christmas Carol) and I regret to say that, at the age of 37, it still does little for me.

So that was my 2011 in books. I have lots of unread books waiting for attention this year but, as it's a leap/Olympic year, it's going to be dominated by Tolkien re-reads: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. I also have Stonemouth to look forward to, and have been inspired by BBC Radio 4's Open Book to re-visit The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4. I'm currently reading Kenneth William's Diaries and Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray.


Sunday, 8 January 2012

Sunday Sounds 31 - Across the Universe

This week's Sunday Sound was inspired by me listening to a podcast of The Beatle's Biographer Hunter Davies being interviewed for Radio 4's Bookclub. In it he discusses the process of writing the book and tells anecdotes of his time spent with The Beatles.

He also tells how the various bits of memorabilia that he collected when writing the book - including handwritten lyrics - would have been chucked had he not sought permission to take them. He has since lent (and willed) these to the British Museum as he doesn't feel it would be right to profit from items he came into possession of through accident or luck. You can find the programme here.

One of the stories he tells concerns the genesis of Across the Universe, which was partially inspired by the cadence of sirens on an emergency vehicle. Here's Sharleen Spiteri with her version:




Saturday, 7 January 2012

Postcards from Fife

At the beginning of the week I promised you some more pictures from my recent holiday at home. True to my word, here are some taken whilst at home in the Kingdom of Fife.


Andrew Carnegie's birthplace

Monastery Ruins

Dunfermline Abbey
City Chambers, Dunfermline


Guilty Pleasures 9

The other day - for no apparent reason - a certain Sophie Ellis-Bextor popped into my head. Naturally my second thought - after wondering where she had come from - was to ear-mark the song in question for this blog-spot.

So, without further ado, here is the lady in question:


Friday, 6 January 2012

I'll Have a P please, Bob...

For people of a certain generation (and probably, truth be told, people of a certain class or intellectual bent), Blockbusters was THE gameshow. The concept was simple - choose a letter from the board and answer the question relating to it. Get it right and you gain a hexagon in your attempt to cross the board. Win, and you got to attempt the Gold Run.

The Show was presented for a decade by Bob Holness who has died today, aged 83. Of course he did many other things in his life including playing Bond on the wireless and several years presenting Call My Bluff. But it is Blockbusters for which he is most renowned. Well, that and performing the Saxophone solo on Gerry Rafferty's Baker Street...

Here are three videos from You Tube. First, one fan's tribute to the opening sequence of the show, only posted in in July last year:

Next, we have a round of the game, to illustrate the format to those of you (if there can be any) unfamiliar with the format.

And finally, here is the audience doing the traditional Hand Jive along with the closing credits:



Wednesday, 4 January 2012

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! XIII

Well, as I mentioned in my previous post, this was an easy choice as it's one of my favourite tracks of all time - Womack & Womack with Teardrops:


NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! XIII - Your Choice

This week's choice would have been a hard one if one of my all time favourite songs hadn't been one of the options. I'll be revealing that later (at c. 5pm GMT) but, tell me, what would you have chosen? Here are your options:

Of course, there's a number of those that I've already used elsewhere on these pages... but would that have ruled them out? Anyway, that's all academic as the challenge is who would you choose, not guess what I've chosen, although you can do that as well!


Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Tuesday Titter 14 - Am I Bovvered?

I wasn't a particular fan of The Catherine Tate show but, rather like Little Britain, thought it worked really well when the characters interacted with celebrity guests. Both shows have done this for Comic Relief in the past, I particularly remember Little Britain did this with Elton John delivering the "only gay in the village" punchline.

In 2007, Catherine Tate took her character Lauren to Downing Street where Tony Blair questioned whether he was "bovvered", Nan became possibly the most crude and rude contestant on Deal or No Deal and Elaine Figgis became romantically involved with a certain Daniel Craig. 

In this sketch, Lauren's English class has a supply teacher...



Monday, 2 January 2012

Postcards from Edinburgh

Last week, I was home in Scotland for Christmas and, as is my custom, I took a number of photographs. I'm going to publish some of these over the next few days both here and at the widow's window. I'm starting with some pics of Edinburgh but there are some of Fife and Glasgow's new Riverside Museum to come.

Calton Hill, Waverley Station (with restored roof) in foreground

Calton Hill

Edinburgh Castle, with Princes Street (complete with tram tracks...)

Altar, St John's Scottish Episcopal Church

Roof, St John's


Sunday, 1 January 2012

Sunday Sounds 30 - Happy New Year

To celebrate this New Year edition of Sunday Sounds, here's the artist who had both the biggest selling album and single of 2011 -Adele - with the fantastic "Turning Tables". I completely love this song - the tone it strikes, the lyrics, the arrangement - enjoy:

Happy New Year,