There should be a law in Britain against using cultural icons from my childhood in adverts on television. It is bad enough when people I admire sell their talents to companies I would rather not support but when cartoon characters turn up in modern form to push profits the anachronism is too much. The latest cultural vandalism is against Top Cat and his gang.
The good news, I suppose, is that it made me think back to the 60s when BBC television broadcast the series ‘Boss Cat’ featuring Top Cat and the lovable rogues who formed his gang. Brain was always my favourite although Benny the Ball came a close second.
It took me years to work out why it was called ‘Boss Cat’ on BBC when the character was Top Cat: there was a British cat food called ‘Top Cat’ and the rules on advertising on BBC television meant that broadcasters considered it safer to change the name. It was a stupid move really since we all talked about Top Cat and never Boss Cat.
The series was American, created by Hanna- Barbera who made so many of our favourite cartoon series. At the heart of each episode a story about the cats outwitting Officer Dibble. Their get- rich- quick schemes rarely worked but were lots of fun. Best of all, I just have to think of the characters to hear their voices across the years.
Every once in a while I stumble across something golden while searching for something else. Having thought the radio dramatisation of Salman Rushdie’s novel ‘Midnight’s Children’ was fantastic, I was pleased to discover this BBC Leeds radio play by Nick Ahad. Ordinarily, I would have no reason to listen to a Leeds radio station since I do not live anywhere near but I was searching for information about the partition of India at the end of British rule and came across this production by accident.
The play is a joint project with the West Yorkshire Playhouse where it was staged following the radio broadcast.
‘Partition’ tells the story of the past by focusing on the present day relationship between a couple about to get married. He is a Sikh and she is a Muslim. Their families have been invited to the wedding but her mother and his grandfather will not attend. We may be in present day Leeds but history is not in the past for the generation that experienced the partition of India.
The play takes us on the wedding day to the ceremony where officials are used to dealing with unusual experiences, except for the registrar, this is her very first time officiating at a wedding and the non- arrival of witnesses is going to be a problem. Both bride and groom- to- be are relying on their respective family members coming; witnesses from the street would be needed if they don’t turn up. The play shows us what obstacles would need to be overcome to face a marriage across the divide.
‘Partition’ by Nick Ahad is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
The recent radio dramatisation of Salman Rusdie’s 1981 novel was fantastic. Not having (yet) read the book, I was ambivalent about listening to the drama as it was broadcast over one day in August by BBC Radio. However, once I started I had to see it through to the end.
The drama was split into episodes of varying lengths, a creative touch that made the broadcasting special. The first episode was broadcast before midnight on the day before the 70th anniversary of Indian independence and the creation of Pakistan. The rest were broadcast throughout the next day.
The story of Saleem Sinai, born on the stroke of midnight with the creation of two new countries is a brilliant one. Nikesh Patel played the adult Saleem who narrates the story of his life as well as the background story of his grandparents and parents. It is a story that follows the history of the new countries as well as the young man. His life weaves in and out of important moments in the life of India and Pakistan.
There is something satisfying about a radio adaptation, especially as voices coming through the air is a significant idea in the novel. The term magical realism is often applied to this story and this may be a reason why I haven’t read it; or the 600 page length may have put me off. However, when brought to you across the airwaves, the concept of magical realism is less off- putting and in fact works very well.
Themes of identity, belonging, national pride, cultural differences and honour all play a part. As Saleem grows up, so does India.
‘Midnight’s Children’ dramatised by Ayeesha Menon and directed by Emma Harding is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
In all the fuss over BBC salaries this week, I heard nothing about the quality of the presenters and the relative merits of their salaries. Bridget Kendall came to mind as an example of the very best of BBC journalists. I wonder what she got paid!
This second series of ‘Cold War Stories’ was essential listening. Just like the first series broadcast on BBC Radio Four last year, it is made up of fifteen minute episodes, each relating a specific event in the Cold War, with contributions from people who actually took part. It takes off where the last series ended with the death of Khrushchev and follows on chronologically, taking in events such as the fall of Saigon, the Prague Spring, the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and the birth of Solidarity in Poland. There are also episodes on the proxy war in Africa and the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Later episodes cover the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Bridget Kendall is now Master (!) of Peterhouse College, Cambridge. Her expertise in Russian made her an outstanding journalist for the BBC and this series reminded me of her contributions to bulletins when a trusted voice was essential.
I loved this television comedy series from the 70s, broadcast on BBC television. There were only two series of ‘Whatever…’ but there had been a series before that called ‘The Likely Lads’. I was too young to see that so only knew the characters Terry and Bob through the later version.
Set in Newcastle, the series was about two friends who took different paths in life but maintained a friendship. As was the way with 70s sit-coms, the comedy came from the pretensions of Bob, the aspiring middle class one, and Terry’s down to earth views on his friends new place in the social order. The first series started with Terry returning to Newcastle from the army. Bob is about to marry Thelma, someone who isn’t keen on any continuing friendship with the uncouth Terry.
The series were broadcast between 1973 and 1974. There had been about a six year gap between ‘The Likely Lads’ and the return to see what had happened to Terry and Bob. Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais were the writers of both versions. I also liked the theme tune called ‘Whatever Happened to You’ which was co- written by La Frenais. James Bolam played Terry and Rodney Bewes played Bob. Brigit Forsyth was Thelma.
The programme had a strong theme of nostalgia for lost youth which appealed to me when I was young. Looking back, that seems odd- and the characters themselves were not that old. They were, though, on the cusp of settling down to mortgage and marriage so perhaps that is the rite of passage that set off the nostalgia.
‘Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
The announcement at the weekend of the death of Barry Norman was another sad passing of someone from my early years who played a significant part in building the person I am today; my interests were formed in my teenage years and have strengthened over the years. Barry Norman was on one of the first experts I came across who talked to me about film.
As I remember it, Film 74 was a fortnightly programme broadcast by BBC television on a Sunday night. Each other week, the book programme ‘Read All About It’ was screened. I liked both!
The format was simple but effective. Norman sat in a studio and talked to the camera about the releases of the week and clips were shown. This was enough for me. His comments were cogent and his tastes were mainstream but the idea of someone, who knew more than I did, telling me about something I wanted to know more about was just the sort of thing I needed.
I read in his obituaries that Barry Norman presented the programme from 1972 until 1998. The title of the series made the small adjustment with each new year. I first became aware of it in 1974 and watched until the late 70s when I left for university. The programme became weekly at some stage and, although I still watched occasionally, my time in front of a television diminished and I found other experts on film to turn to.
However, Film… was part of my growing up. It was one of the first places I realised that ‘foreign films’ were worth finding out and, each New Year, his programme of his favourite films of the year was a must see. In essence, this is what made him the very best of critics: he talked about what he liked and why and was unapologetic about the idea that the list was personal. One person, talking to camera- amazing television. They should do that again.
Jeremy Bowen is something of a BBC star as far as I am concerned. His level headed reporting from one of the world’s hottest regions is always worth listening to. He seems to get across complex ideas with clarity and he is not prone to that modern journalistic disease which rates feelings over facts and imagery over clarity.
This series of short (fifteen minute) radio programmes, broadcast by BBC Radio Four, allows him the opportunity to reflect on his twenty five years of reporting from the Middle East. I remember most of the stories the covered even if many of them were long forgotten to me. He carefully crafts a modern history of the region through returning to his news reports.
The series is not without feeling, how could it be, when as a journalist, he has seen some terrible things? Yet, while showing his humanity he never forgets that his job is to report the facts and get the stories out. There are brief glimpses behind the scene as well, though. He tells the story of his dinner party for fellow journalists on the night Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered.
‘Our Man in the Middle East’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?