HAPPY TALK

Rob SquadIn a year or so of what has been an exceptional era of doom ‘n’ gloom – indeed, one that appears to be getting even doomier and gloomier by the day – people have naturally devoted a great deal of their spare time to seeking escapism and entertainment, just as they always do at such times. Hollywood provided it during the Great Depression of the 1930s and television did much the same in the economically chaotic 1970s. Beyond subscriptions to (or illegal accessing of) Netflix, YouTube has served this function for many of late. I myself have been a beneficiary of this desperate desire to be entertained, with my own YT channel experiencing a phenomenal upsurge of views. In some cases videos produced almost a decade ago have been discovered and applauded as though they were brand new. I’ve lost count of the number of kind words that have flowed my way from grateful online explorers who seem to regard my back catalogue of silly, satirical and near-the-knuckle videos as some sort of welcome oasis in a very dark desert. It caught me by surprise, to say the least, but it is gratifying to have the work I’ve put in over several years belatedly appreciated by a bigger audience than I’ve ever enjoyed before.

I’ve made my own discoveries during this period as well, many of which I’ve written about on here before – YT channels such as Triggernometry, Joolz Guides, Jago Hazzard, John Heaton, Reuben the Bulldog, Oliver the Beagle and numerous others I subscribe to and find much more informative and entertaining than the majority of the drivel served up by mainstream broadcasters these days. I also once mentioned the ‘reaction’ videos, a subgenre on YT that seems to have undergone a massive expansion over the past twelve months. There appear to be hundreds of these channels now, whereby the hosts listen to a piece of music most of them have never heard before and we receive their instant reaction followed by them trying to put into words what they’ve just heard. On paper, it doesn’t sound too engaging, but a lot depends on the personality of the host and how well they’re able to engage the viewer. Some are better than others and some are fantastic.

I’ve recently fallen in love with an American couple who present a channel called ‘Rob Squad Reactions’. Jordan and Amber are married twenty-somethings who are unapologetic about their ignorance of music most of us have heard forever. What makes them so likeable, however, is their ravenous appetite to be educated; they receive recommendations from subscribers and give these recommendations an eager listen, without prejudice and with a completely open mind. Songs and artists we tend to assume everyone knows inside out are often utterly unknown to them, yet they don’t dismiss what they don’t know; instead, they embrace the unknown and want to learn. It’s a refreshingly joyous experience watching them listen to a standard and seeing the first-time impact on them; often, it enables the viewer to hear the song in a new light too, sharing the sensation with the pair as they’re knocked out by what they’re hearing. They also have a habit of nailing what makes a song magical in a way that relentless exposure to it gradually erodes; I often find myself remembering my own emotions when hearing the song for the first time, emotions that repetition had removed.

Watching several of their videos in a row, one sees the rapid development of a genuine appreciation of music and musicians made before their own time; they routinely comment on how musically diverse and adventurous artists were forty or fifty years ago, with their versatility and ability shaming the uninspired push-button nature of so much mainstream music produced today; and it’s only through listening to these 20th century sounds that this has really dawned on Jordan and Amber. It makes one wish that this kind of musical education was rated as highly as some prioritised subjects on the school syllabus, though I suppose that might result in the decline and fall of the profitable industry which produces the fast-food junk that passes for pop in 2021 as its consumers become aware they’re being force fed pap.

Most of all, though, what makes this channel such a gem is that Jordan and Amber themselves radiate such positive, unpretentious joy. They really do sparkle as a couple and come across as genuinely lovely people. It’s interesting that Amber wasn’t present in the earlier videos; Jordan on his own is likeable enough, but the channel really springs to life and stands out from the competition once his relentlessly upbeat other half joins him. I was compelled to pay tribute to them as, whilst I’ve told some tales from the Taliban this week, I couldn’t bring myself to write about last week’s massacre down Plymouth way simply because sometimes even I can only take so much. It’s probably no wonder I find Rob Squad Reactions so addictive at the moment, just as some can’t get enough of ‘Buggernation Street’. Both, it seems, are needed for the same reason.

AUSTIN MITCHELL (1934-2021)
Richard & AustenOn the day Brian Clough’s brief and tempestuous stint as Leeds United manager came to an abrupt end in September 1974, Cloughie took part in a memorable television confrontation with his nemesis and the man he’d replaced at Elland Road, Don Revie. What followed remains an electrifying clash between two men whose antipathy towards each other is evident, yet both are able to articulate their point of view without interruption from the programme’s presenter in a way that simply wouldn’t happen today. The presenter was Austin Mitchell, then one of the co-hosts (alongside Richard Whiteley) of Yorkshire TV’s nightly regional magazine show, ‘Calendar’.

Mitchell’s skills as an interviewer are underlined when, after asking Clough and Revie several questions, he’s smart enough to realise the guests are more than capable of grilling each other; they do so in such a compelling fashion that Mitchell slowly pulls back and lets them get on with it for the best part of ten minutes without him interjecting. Can you imagine any presenter of, say, ‘Newsnight’ in 2021 showing similar journalistic expertise or lacking the ego to keep schtum for such a long time? No, me neither.

In the first half of the 1970s, Austin Mitchell experienced the curious fame unique to the regional TV star at a time when ITV’s individual regional identities were extremely strong. He was a household name throughout Yorkshire, yet beyond its borders was pretty much unknown. It was a shame, looking back, that Mitchell wasn’t a national TV presenter because he was an intelligent, charismatic and witty host of ‘Calendar’, capable of covering serious news events – such as reporting from the scene of 1973’s Lofthouse Colliery Disaster – and simultaneously engaging in the kind of silly stories about odd local customs or generic eccentrics that became a hallmark and cliché of regional television in the 70s. But rather than make that leap from regional to national telly, Austin Mitchell instead abandoned a career in broadcasting for politics.

Whereas Brian Walden made the opposite journey – moving from the Labour backbenches to present the Sunday lunchtime political show, ‘Weekend World’ – Austin Mitchell quit TV and was elected MP for Great Grimsby at a 1977 by-election following the death of Foreign Secretary Anthony Crosland. Mitchell described himself as a Gaitskellite, and as a politician he certainly seemed to belong to that old-school intellectual socialist tradition; along with his journalistic background he was also an academic, having being a university lecturer in New Zealand in the 60s, and was a prolific author. He was a solid constituency MP for 38 years, retaining the humour often evident during his ‘Calendar’ days by once briefly changing his surname to Haddock in order to highlight the plight of the fish that was part of the staple diet of his seafaring constituents. They really don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

© The Editor

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6 thoughts on “HAPPY TALK

  1. Despite his chosen status as a maverick, Austin Mitchell was not only a committed constituency MP but also quietly achieved many positive changes in laws, simply by the weight of his personality and dogged persistence. Using his interviewing experience, he was a formidable inquisitor on select committees where he probably found his political metier.

    He began, and always remained, an honest Labour man, even after the party had moved elsewhere in its periodic swings in different directions. His Euroscepticism even pre-dates that of Nigel Farage and he was never afraid to express it even when his party was resolutely following an opposite direction.

    He was ‘a character’, the like of which politics increasingly lacks as career-progress now trumps principle, integrity and commitment. It’s interesting to note that Mitchell was born in a constituency now represented by a maverick of the opposite party – I wonder if it’s something in the water there?

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    1. It was always hard for me to shake off the image of Austin Mitchell presenting ‘Calendar’, as he was one of the most recognisable faces on TV when I was growing up. One moment from the programme I clearly remember seeing particularly stays with me: Richard Whiteley was doing a serious piece to camera in the run-up to the ad break and Austin Mitchell suddenly flew across the studio floor behind him as though he was jumping into a swimming pool, complete with Tarzan-like yell. Flat on the floor, he then said ‘Are we still on?’, was informed they were indeed still on, and cracked-up in hysterics as the programme went to the ad break. It was almost Pythonesque, though as the show went out live every night, I suspect it wasn’t recorded, as I’ve never seen it turn up on anything since.

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  2. I also picture Austin Mitchell alongside Richard Whitely, Marilyn Webb and Alan Hardwick in Yorkshire’s very own Cumberland at Six. You’ve said what I wanted to say about the way in which he conducted the Clough/Revie interview. I remember seeing it first time round, having no real idea of the significance of the events, or of the conversation on screen but even at that tender age, there was something compelling about it. It just felt so different to what I’d normally see. It’s now one of my favourite pieces of television.

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    1. Yes, that interview seems even more impressive today in the post-Paxman world of interviewers who can’t shut up when needed. And you’re right – 70s ‘Calendar’ was indeed the blueprint for ‘Cumberland at Six’!

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  3. Well said Mudplugger.
    And Victoria thankyou for the links. I hope that they respond in kind. But what an American would make of Buggernation Street would be worthy of a Gogglebox type expose. (can’t do accents, an accute problem)

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    1. There was a Brit working on Broadway a few years back who left a couple of comments on a Buggernation episode, explaining how he’d shown it to some of the NYC cast of whatever play he was working on. He said they were horrified by the…er…non-PC nature of the content. That’s the nearest indication I’ve so far received to an American reaction. I did point out the US produced Larry David, but that was some years back now.

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