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Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The podcast way to do history


I read about the Sharon Tate murders not long after they happened. I followed Watergate as it unfolded. I've clearly forgotten enough of what I picked up back then or missed enough of what memoirs have subsequently brought into the public domain to be fascinated by two recent podcasts devoted to them.

You Must Remember Manson is a spin-off from You Must Remember This, Karina Longworth's acclaimed series of looks at the seamy side of what she calls "Hollywood's first century". Recited by the author in a characteristic style, as if from the depths of a chaise longue situated beneath a slowly revolving fan, Longworth's Manson series devotes whole episodes to looking at people like Dennis Wilson and Terry Melcher who were more than incidental figures in the story. It's fascinating to hear the story told from a showbiz point of view.

Slow Burn is a newly-launched podcast about Watergate which sets out to tell the story in pieces, which is the way it first came to light. It starts with the amazing and sad story of Martha Mitchell, the loose-tongued wife of Nixon loyalist John Mitchell, and continues with the saga of Wright Patman, the Texan populist whose committee first set out to prove a link between the money found on the Watergate burglars and CREEP, the Committee To Re-Elect The President. Where there are parallels with what's going on at the moment with Trump and Robert Mueller, let's say they don't resist them.

This is obviously the way to do history via the podcast medium - not so much by drawing the threads together as by separating them, seeing where they lead back to and treating them as a collection of life stories.

It seems to work.

Friday, November 24, 2017

My eyewitness account of nothing happening at Oxford Circus tonight

My wife and I were going into Oxford Circus station at 4:36 tonight. It was beginning to get busy. There was that quickening of the pace you can feel when people are just keen to get through before the crowd arrives. As we were at the top of the escalator a voice on the P.A. said "LT police to Platform One, please" with just enough urgency in the voice to suggest this might not be routine.

At the bottom of the escalator there were some people starting to go against the tide. They were coming through from the tunnel leading to Platform One and they looked spooked by something.  They were talking to other people and telling them to go back. They may well have been visitors from overseas.

We didn't stick around to find out. We just kept heading down the second escalator to the Victoria Line, got on the first train that came and were out of there and at Warren Street before the police were called. On the way home I looked on Twitter and could see the signs of a big story developing. BBC and Sky were all leading with the story. Armed police were swarming all over the place. People were talking about shooters, even knives.

By the time I got home, which was round about 5:36, the story was being carried by the New York Times and the Washington Post. At the same time the Met were saying that as far as they could see nothing had happened. There had been reports of a shooter in Oxford Circus station but they hadn't been able to find any evidence of any such person or incident.

I've worked in the West End on and off for over forty years. In the seventies you could have terrorist incidents in the West End and you wouldn't know about them until you picked up the paper the following morning.

Contrast that with Oxford Circus tonight. In just one hour of nothing happening the news was halfway round the world.


Friday, November 17, 2017

Here's a play for people who don't go to the theatre


Yesterday I went to the theatre on my own.  I've never done that before. I'd been telling myself for a while I had to get round to seeing James Graham's play Ink, with Bertie Carvel as Rupert Murdoch. This week I saw a poster on the tube saying that it closed in early January. I decided I had to get on with it.

Yesterday morning, using the TodayTix app,  I bought a ticket in the Royal Circle of the Duke Of Yorks Theatre for just £23 including agents fees.  The view wasn't brilliant but I've had far worse at rock gigs over the years and it didn't prevent me enjoying it.

Ink is brilliant. Fast, punchy, broad, vulgar and thoughtful, it tells the story of the first year of the Sun newspaper from Murdoch's purchase of the failing title from the complacent Mirror group to the introduction of the first Page Three girl. Its climax is provided by the tragically botched kidnapping of the wife of Murdoch's deputy.

The only thing that could improve it would be to see it with an audience more like the Britain the play describes and less like the self-selecting bunch who go to the theatre.

The latter are overwhelmingly white, senior, middle class and would be the first to tell you they have never read a copy of The Sun in their lives and really couldn't understand what anyone would possibly see in it.

Something like Ink should be seen by the widest audience possible. Not because it would be good for them. But because it would make a great experience even better.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Let's not talk about sex, chaps.

The obit of American writer Nancy Friday in today's Times quotes her on why she started writing about sex:
"Men spend a great deal of their leisure hours in pubs, clubs or washrooms talking about their sexual exploits, but women don't say anything at all. Consequently one woman never knows what another woman thinks about sex."
I don't wish to take issue with the recently-deceased but, setting aside the obvious question, "how would Nancy know what men talk about in men-only situations?", it has not been my experience that men talk to other men about their sexual exploits.

I realised this again recently in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein business when, like everyone else, I've been asking old colleagues whether we ever worked with anyone who showed any of the same tendencies.

We quickly realised that what little we knew on the subject was entirely based on what female colleagues had told us.

Obviously been going in the wrong washrooms.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

What Teddy Roosevelt did all day


I've been reading about Theodore Roosevelt. He became President in 1900. I suppose that's a long time ago but since all my grandparents were alive at the time I don't feel it is.

Roosevelt's daily routine as President began with a couple of hours doing correspondence. Between ten and noon he was in the second floor reception room at the White House meeting lawmakers and civil servants. At noon the general public were let in for an hour. Roosevelt, who was a man of exceptional energy, shook the hands of all of them. Then at one he would repair to the barber's chair for his daily shave. During that time newspapermen were allowed to join him, to listen to his plans and to ask questions.

That's four hours a day answering questions in public. During that time he must have said a few things he wished he hadn't but his biography isn't particularly littered with gaffes. I suppose hat's because gaffes are a product of the broadcast age. In the broadcast age politics is a performance first and an exchange of ideas second.


Tuesday, October 03, 2017

It was the fickle, style-obsessed London media that made a star of Tom Petty

Oddly enough, London was the making of Tom Petty.

When their first album came out in 1976 it made no impression in the USA. Their manager Tony Dimitriades, a Greek Cypriot born in London, just happened to be visiting his family here at the time when he read an enthusiastic review of an import copy in Sounds.

He went to see a British agent, showed him the review and he decided he could get the band a support slot with Nils Lofgren, who was due to tour the UK.

They came in Spring 1977 and went down so well that they stayed behind to play headlining shows of their own. They did "Top Of The Pops" and "Whistle Test" and got on the covers of NME, Melody Maker and Sounds, achieving in that short period national prominence that would have taken years to achieve in the USA.

What's more they went back to the USA as the band that the British had taken to and with punk credentials that would never have occurred to anyone over there.

Maybe it was the leather jacket he wore on the cover. Whatever, it worked. Of course it couldn't happen today. You only miss gatekeepers when they're not there anymore.

Monday, October 02, 2017

House price shock 1980s-style

We bought our first house in 1982. It was a four-bedroom place in north London.

An uncle of mine asked what it cost. When I told him he caught his breath and rocked back on his heels. He didn't have much experience of house prices outside Yorkshire.

He thought about it for a moment and then found a silver lining. "Still, I expect you'll also get a double garage for that."

I explained that there was no garage of any kind. Properties on suburban streets in London didn't work like that.

He went away shaking his head that we would ever pay such a ridiculous sum of money for a house, even in that there London.

How much were we paying?

£39,500.