Thursday, 27 November 2008


An anniversary for me this week. 30 years since my first paid employment as a broadcaster. It was this week in November 1978 that BBC Scotland were bold enough to take me on, as the youngest staff presenter the BBC had ever booked. In fact, they were so dubious about the whole thing that they had to send off to London for permission to give the job to such a callow youth. While they waited for the BBC equivalent of the Vatican's white smoke, they fiddled the issue and put me on a temporary Engineering grade. All was soon sorted, though.
So, 30 years of professional rabbiting, muttering, shouting and rambling on British radio and television. What fun, and what a privilege! And what changing times, not least in the technology of it all. From playing vinyl records, tapes and cartridges in radio, 2-inch and 1-inch video and even telecine in TV, to the era in which a hard-disk playout server seems to be the source of everything. It mostly whirrs along quite nicely, but there's not so much to get excited about when the equipment you're battling with is an inscrutable black box in a chilled server room at the other end of the building!
Anyway, enough Luddite rumbling from me for now. I hereby wish myself a happy Pearl anniversary. Send gifts of suitable jewellery to the usual address.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Istanbul this morning, homeward bound.

Last call on this mini-adventure is the exciting city of Istanbul. It's a big place, population upwards of 10 million, and an intriguing mix of the ancient and the modern. On crowded streets, trams glide past market stalls selling all manner of colourful goods, while moustached, leather-jacket-clad salesmen sweep towards you with an armful of rugs.

The famous Grand Bazaar is something to behold, though the most accurate marketing statement is probably the one offered, with a large grin, by one of the vendors near the entrance: "We won't cheat you as much as the others!".

I'm leaving the ship now, as duy calls back in London. Many thanks to the good folks of Cunard for such a memorable time and, of course, to the TOGS, without whom.....

See you back in Blighty!

Last Night at Sea

Well, I've made it to my last night on this glorious, windswept, TOGS' Voyage.

All going swimmingly, apart from one poorly TOG who they think might have appendicitis. Either that or she's getting her excuse in early for dodging Alan Dedicoat's karaoke efforts.

Today we anchored off the Turkish port of Dikili. Many of us braved the rain and went ashore to explore its delights. To describe it as a one-horse-town might be to do a disservice to the horse, who may simply have been on annual leave at the time of our visit. Actually, Dikili did have a very nice sweetie shop, a tremendously well stocked bucket emporium and a number of outlets selling shiny fresh fish. Outside each fish shop was a scraggy, but hopeful looking cat. There was also a cat seeking refuge from the rain in the engine bay of the local police car. We returned to the ship, pausing only to neck a Turkish coffee in a Turkish cafe.

I promised myself an early night tonight, yet it seems to have become unexpectedly late. I blame the two TOGS who detained me in the bar. And one of them stole the slice of lime out of my gin. Trying to ward off the scurvy, I suppose.

Must close now. I've just seen the members of the string quartet heading, instruments under arm, for the exit. If they put on warm clothing and strike up with Nearer My God To Thee, I'm heading for the lifeboats, or perhaps just back to the bar.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Still at Sea

To paraphrase Brian Hanrahan, I'm not allowed to tell you how many TOGS went ashore to visit the monastery at Volos, but I counted them all out and I counted them all back again. My last-minute decision to wimp out of the trip, on the grounds of inclement weather and inadequate personal cladding, was thoroughly vindicated. The TOGS returned chilled and windswept. A good time was had by all though. The ancient monastery comes highly recommended by today's visitors, though their initial excitement at discovering a 16,000 litre barrel of wine up at the mountain top turned to despair when they realised that it had been drained before their arrival. Coincidence....?

Dickie bows and posh frocks were required for this evening's Black & White Ball. A bit of a shock for me, as this was a late change to the schedule and I hadn't packed for a Formal Night. As luck would have it, Alan Dedicoat had left his DJ hanging in my wardrobe for safe keeping, ready for his return to the ship next week. Only one problem: he and I are about a foot different in height. Nothing the on-board tailor can't sort though. Which is good news for me but may be tricky for Deadly in a few days' time. Mind you, the extra braid round the cuffs may suit him. Don't tell him, will you? By the time he rumbles it I'll be safely back in Blighty.

We're sailing through the night as I write this missive. I was sitting in the comfortably appointed Commodore Club, listening to an entertainer who sounds uncannily like the late Hubert Gregg singing George Formby songs, while I made a thorough assessment of the accommodation for next week's live radio broadcasts, but then I heard the mournful sound of a foghorn off the starboard bow, which appeared to be gradually getting closer. Natural caution made me abandon my position near the front on the foggy side and take refuge with two TOGS from Holmfirth in the ship's Casino. I can't hear the foghorn anymore, which probably means the danger has passed. Or could it mean that those manning the foghorn have simply nodded off? Time will tell. Whatever, I have confidence in the crew of this mighty ship. I'm sure they have someone up at the bow with a decent torch.

Here's a pic of me in action at last night's TOGS' Champagne Reception, with Pudsey keeping a weather eye on proceedings.

All at Sea 2

Greetings from the port of Volos, where the good ship Queen Victoria docked at 0900 local time today. It's cloudy and cold, and we're berthed here in one of Greece's biggest container ports. As I survey the scene from the poop deck, I can see cranes, containers, an oil tanker and a bulk-carrier loading shredded scrap metal.......Oh yes, and a fleet of coaches being boarded by a fleet of TOGS, heading off for today's excursion. These are the hardy ones. The trip includes a 150-step climb up a rocky hillside to reach a historic monastery at The Meteora (means "suspended rocks" or "in the heavens above" depending on who you believe) and there's a strict dress code for those who wish to venture in. Skirts below the knee are de rigeur, and woe betide the female TOG who sports a pair of trousers. Not for her the warm welcome and the monastic embrace. A sound thrashing from the brotherhood, more like. Come to think of it, I'm sure that's a positive incentive for some TOGS!
Here are a few of the grop, preparing for departure, complete with Pudsey the Children-in-Need bear. I hope the monks don't take exception to his lack of formal attire.

I waved the TOGS off on their adventure and then returned to my cabin for a ship's biscuit and some restorative cocoa. It was just too windy and cold for me to contemplate the hill climb to the famous monastery and, besides, I didn't have room for warm clothing when I packed my case for this trip. I've made good use of my time in the Queen Victoria's excellent Gym, and I'll be poised with the hypothermia treatment when the TOGS return at teatime.

Monday, 17 November 2008

All at Sea

Off on a bit of an adventure now. It's time for the TOGS' Voyage. (If you're new to the concept of TOGS, see my earlier posting on the subject, or listen to Terry Wogan on Radio 2!) In a new and daring venture, some 300 of our loyal listeners have booked themselves on Cunard's latest cruise giant, the Queen Victoria. Their voyage takes them around Ancient Wonders of the Mediterranean and it's my pleasure to be able to join them for the first few days of this exciting outing. We sailed tonight from the port of Piraeus, near Athens. This giant of a ship slipped her moorings and edged out of the harbour so smoothly and quietly that it took a moment or two to be really sure she was actually moving. In a trice, the memory of a drizzly London was erased, to be replaced by.....a torrential downpour in Piraeus! But at least you get a better class of thunderstorm in Greece.
As soon as we were under way, a champagne reception kicked off the TOGS' Voyage in style. We saluted the TOGS and their great achievements in fund raising for the Children in Need charity. And now, at the end of a long and arduous (Don't you mean "drink laden"? Ed.) day, I've now retired to my Stateroom to write these words and, perchance, to dream. Tomorrow is another day, this time in the port of Volos. Assuming, that is, that the ship safely navigates what looks to me like quite a tight path through the various small islands that punctuate the Aegean Sea. It is very dark out there. But I'm sure these guys know what they're doing... Don't they?

Volos has a Monastery, and tomorrow we're going to visit it. Very strict dress code, apparently. Women must wear skirts. Not above the knee. Trousers are right out, it seems. Questions come to mind: What's wrong with trousers? Will the monks be inspecting the skirts for suitability? If yes, how do they avoid studying too closely and giving the wrong impression? Will one particular monk be in overall command of the skirt regime? If yes, will he be called Brother Skirtchecker? One thing is for sure. My journalistic instinct will come to the fore and I shall doggedly pursue answers to these questions and more. Further reports will follow. Probably from a police cell, or possibly the British Consulate.
Avast Behind!
Pictures below:
Voyage planning with Alan Dedicoat ... and yours truly on the majestic grand staircase

Manning the TOGS Desk, with (L) PR guru Dan Kirkby, and Alan Dedicoat.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Bond, Charles Bond...?

My attention was drawn, a couple of weeks ago, to a Facebook group entitled "Charles Nove to be the next James Bond". It turns out to be the creation of a keen Radio 2 listener called Nat. Thanks to the wonders of Facebook, membership of the group has been ticking steadily upwards, and the numbers are now well past 300.

The concept of me as the world famous secret agent is a new one on me, but I must say it seems an enticing concept! Thanks to some egging-on from my chums, I decided to venture a photographic audition...

What do we think? Am I made for the role? Should I set aside some filming dates in my crowded 2009 diary? Do I get the girl?

I guess it's over to EON Productions and Barbara Brocolli. Operators are standing by to take your call.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Piece of Cake!

Some newsreading shifts are tougher than others.
At Radio 2, the breakfast duty has its occasional compensations...

Here are this morning's 7.30am headlines, complete with Children-in-Need chocolate cupcake, which makes it all worthwhile...!

Commotion at Radio 2

Everyone I meet who knows I'm in some way associated with Radio 2 has something to say, or to ask, about the station's recent ... er ... turbulent times. (for our overseas viewers, or anyone who's somehow managed to miss out on this story, there's piles of stuff in the press about it, and the Media Guardian has a pretty decent summary here. )
I can think of a number of convincing reasons why I shouldn't wax too lyrical about all of this. It does expose a number of interesting problems and questions, though.
  • Is swearing and cruelty the common currency of young, thrusting, cutting-edge comedy?
  • If it is, does it have to be, or will there be something new along in due course?
  • How does cutting-edge comedy find its place on a popular mainstream broadcast channel without sometimes causing offence?
  • How does an organisation the size of the BBC run an effective system that prevents Really Bad Stuff from going to air, without also strangling creativity in a web of paperwork and rules & regulations?

I don't claim to know the answers!

One thing that really strikes me is the changing role of the Producer in radio. When I started in this game, 30 years ago, the Producer was the one sitting in the control room with the running order and the stopwatch. He or she was also listening to what came out of the loudspeakers. Today, on some shows, the Producer is in the studio with the "turn", joining in the fun and games, laughing at the jokes and playing an on-air role in the programme. I'm not levelling criticism at any individuals, but I do wonder if enough thought has been given to the difficulty of retaining objective oversight when the producer has become one of the acts in the circus.

Whatever, in all this, Radio 2 has lost the services of a Controller who knew the station forwards, backwards and sideways. It's very unsettling and we're all wondering what comes next.

Ho hum ...