Saturday, 21 April 2018

Ready to Play?

What's the day?

Well, Saturday.

So, not words that would ever opened that classic of children's TV Play School, which first aired on this day (a Tuesday) back in 1964.



It was much loved, much missed (it morphed into Playbus, then Playdays and ultimately Tikkabilla). There was a Saturday spin-off called Play Away hosted by the long-serving Brian Cant (and featuring, among others nascent thespians Jeremy Irons and Tony Robinson).

But there was never anything quite like the weekday regular, Play School. And what a roll-call of stella names graced its studio: Eric Thompson (father of Emma, 'father' of The Magic Roundabout), Derek Griffiths, Johnny Ball, (Dame) Floella Benjamin and many, many more).

But the real stars, of course, were the toys. Two Teds (big and little), Jemima the rag-doll and a rather scary doll called Hamble, and Humpty. Who didn't love Humpty?

Unfortunately all was not sweetness and light backstage, and if you want to find out more, have a listen to this excellent documentary (covering, in addition, Captain Pugwash, Mr Benn, Trumpton, Chigley and Camberwick Green). But beware. It involves a knitting needle inserted into a rather unfortunate location.

No wonder poor Hamble always looked so disapproving!

Friday, 20 April 2018

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of AchillesThe Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wanted to be able to listen, to digest the bloody images, to paint them flat and unremarkable on to the vase of posterity. To release him from it, and make him Achilles again.

So says Patroculus in Madeline Miller's magnificent debut novel. Make him Achilles again. Make the man a myth and legend, make the man-killing monster with a male lover, make the half-divine son of a goddess mother human again. That’s what this book does. And does well.

It also does something else well - it breaks all the rules. Mix past and present-tense? Why not? Kill the first-person narrator of the previous thirty chapters before the story finishes? Watch me! Perhaps only the audacity of a debut novelist can do this. Either that or some of the hero’s near-invincibility and unshakable confidence has rubbed off like gold leaf on the author.

Either way the book is little short of a masterpiece, bringing an ancient story to life, adding new and precious insights, deepening one's understanding and spinning the oldest and greatest of tales out of glistening new thread.

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Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Here is the news...

... There isn't any.

Or, more precisely, there wasn't any on this day (which was Good Friday) back in 1930. Instead, listeners to BBC Radio were treated to some piano music instead.

I'd like to resurrect the tradition. Here's Gabriela Montero playing the first movement of Mozart's c major sonata K330.



And now the weather...


Monday, 16 April 2018

Your starter for ten...

It's not been a good week for the Paxman.

First, he comes off second or perhaps third best as guest host of Have I Got News for You? on Friday night. He's even left speechless when the BBC's business correspondent Steph McGovern calls him 'a patronising git'.

But worse - much worse - was the gaffe revealed tonight on Twitter that caused a furore during the University Challenge semi-final between Newcastle and Merton, Oxford.

Here's what happened...

Newcastle - about to answer their third bonus music question - are surprised when Paxman does it for them. Apparently, in reading the question, Paxman gave away the answer.

'And finally, for five points, name the composer of this piece by Aaron Cope... oh s**t!'

But what happened next was, if anything, even worse and I'm indebted to Paul Carey Jones on Twitter (who was in the audience at the recording) for the full story...



Well, dear reader, the producers may have been unmoved but the audience (it would seem) certainly weren't. And neither, too, were the question setters who ultimately rode to the rescue with a new bonus (requiring, of course, another piece of music). Cameras once more rolled, Paxman managed to read the question (without giving away the answer) and all was well.

And I challenge you. Take a look at the broadcast. Don't even watch it all if you aren't that way inclined. (A quick skip to 14:43 will take you to the moment of truth.)

But can you see the join?!




Smut: Two Unseemly Stories by Alan Bennett

Smut: Two Unseemly StoriesSmut: Two Unseemly Stories by Alan Bennett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

‘It was an ancient battleground... what she called it, what he called it and whether he was allowed to call it anything at all.’

Bennett calls it (this book, that is) ‘Smut’ and someone (possibly an editor) adds the subtitle ‘Two Unseemly Stories’. But they’re anything but. They’re witty, funny, forensically observed and structurally near-perfect tales and the subject happens to be sex. Not smut. There’s nothing smutty about them other than in a ‘shocking-my-maiden-aunt-just-mentioning-it’ way. And that, somehow, is the only slight problem. The sense that this is being packaged as taboo (the cover - cleverly - has a keyhole to peep through!) when it’s really anything but. But what it is is well worth reading.

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