Sunday, 16 May 2010

Ahar, me hearties!

Well, dear reader, you find me all at sea, on another TOGS’ Voyage. Just a quick explanation for the uninitiated: the TOGS are the hardcore followers of Terry Wogan and his now defunct Radio 2 breakfast show. The show may have gone but, happily, the TOGS and their fun, games and splendid charity work live on. Over 300 of these good folk have booked on Cunard’s Queen Victoria, for a cruise entitled ‘Jewels of the Mediterranean’. (So, where it’s going is anyone’s guess!) And they’ve had the good grace to invite a bunch of us jolly broadcasters along to share the merriment. And as you can see, Children in Need mascot Pudsey Bear is with us too.

We set sail from Southampton at teatime on Friday, the huge ship making her way carefully down Southampton Water, past the Isle of Wight, and out into the English Channel. We celebrated our departure with champagne at the stern of the ship, and then a champagne reception to welcome our TOGS friends. Here’s me, waxing lyrical – or is it whimsical? - at the evening bash.

In the course of Saturday, we traversed the notorious Bay of Biscay. It’s vast! Bigger than it looks on the map. It offered up a bit of a swell, too, but it takes a lot to interfere with the smooth running of a ship this size.

Saturday morning, in the Grand Theatre (and grand it certainly is, a well equipped 850-seater which would not look at all inferior in London’s West End.) the entertainment bill offered A Natter With Nove, in which, with the excellent interviewing assistance of the lovely Reverend Ruth Scott (of Pause for Thought fame) the assembled ladies and gentlemen were treated to the story of my life and haphazard career. We followed that with Uncle Charles’s Newsreading Challenge, in which a number of brave volunteers were dragged to the stage to have a go at some News bulletins, of the style we do on Radio 2. They did very well, and were pretty brave to get up there and give it a try in front of their fellow passengers.

More champagne followed (are you detecting a theme here?) interspersed with a sprinkling of G&T. I’m writing this having come in from sunning myself on deck, with a glass of Pimms and an ice cream. It’s hell, I tell you. One of the party travelling with us is a lovely Spanish lady, Christina. She was a little puzzled by the concept of the TOGS’ names. They tend to have an alias that they use for activities connected with the show, and most of the names are a play on words of some sort or another. Names such as Eileen Dover, Dora Jarr, or the retired military genius Major Sir Gerry Pending, are par for the course. Anyway, one of my on-stage Newsreading participants was the delightful Norma Stitz. Even with the top-class grasp of English possessed by our Spanish friend, this idiomatic usage was a bit baffling. And so it came to pass that Janet, wife of my friend and colleague John Marsh, set to explaining some of these names and how the puns worked. She worked gamely around the idea of Norma’s tag. There was a small pause and then the penny dropped and, grinning broadly, Christina announced, loudly, in her Malaga accent: “AH! ENORMOUS TITS!”. Fortunately, the band was playing cheery melodies for the Black & White Ball at the time, otherwise the ladies walking past at the time might have been taken aback at this observation.

First stop, after 3 days at sea, is Barcelona, where I am due to take my leave, flying back to London so that my colleague Alan Dedicoat can come out to join the ship. Then I’m due to return to rejoin my shipmates in Rome on Friday. If you take out of the equation the British Airways cabin crew strike and the Icelandic volcano, it should all be smooth as silk………

Saturday, 1 May 2010

A nearly gaffe - Exclusive

As the media extracted maximum value, and then some, from Gordon Brown's "Bigotgate" moment, I recalled a moment, long, long ago, when another senior politician came very close to illuminating the airwaves with his innermost thoughts....
(fx: shimmering vision + assorted harp glisses)

It's 1979, and the General Election campaign is in full swing. (This is the election that'll see Jim Callaghan humping his belongings into the removal van and departing Downing Street to make way for Britain's first female Prime Minister.)

BBC Radio Scotland is broadcasting one of a series of election phone-in shows, with various party representatives facing questions from the public. The programme is being presented in Edinburgh, but one of its guests, the renowned Conservative MP Teddy Taylor, is joining the proceedings from Glasgow. For technical reasons, he's sitting with me in the station's main continuity studio.

The calls come thick and fast and, it would be fair to say, Mr Taylor is given a pretty thorough interrogation by a largely hostile electorate.

Being every bit the experienced media veteran, he displays a neat routine for lighting his cigarettes (yes, you could smoke in a workplace back then!) with a match struck underneath the acoustic table, so that the microphone does not pick-up the sound. As the hostile calls come thick and fast, the rate of fag lighting increases, and I'm sure I detect a slight nervous tremor beginning to show in his hands.

Eventually, the programme draws to a close and Taylor emits a sigh of relief, turning to me and opining: "J*sus Chr*st, not a f*cking Conservative among them".

I hastily make the international sign for "Shhh .... not now, matey!" as I open the mic and embark on the live end-of-programme continuity announcement. Just one second earlier on the mic fader and the listening public would have been able to share his observation. Sadly, only Teddy and I had the pleasure. In fact, this blog is undoubtedly the first published record of this event! I probably shouldn't divulge this studio secret, but I'm unofficially invoking the 30 Year Rule.

Although that election swept the Conservatives to power, it also swept Teddy Taylor out of his Glasgow Cathcart seat, as Labour reasserted itself in working-class central Scotland.

Incidentally, 1979's was a May election, and the Labour campaign focused on the damage they predicted the Conservatives would do to the country. James Callaghan cautioned that a Conservative government would "just allow firms to go bankrupt and jobs to be lost in the middle of a world recession". The Tories were, he said "too big a gamble to take. The question ... is whether we risk tearing everything up by the roots".