A REPEAT PERFORMANCE

The old complaint always used to be that there were too many repeats on television; but I suppose it depended on what was being repeated. A classic BBC series such as ‘The Forsyte Saga’ benefitted from being repeated, with the programme and the audience joint beneficiaries. It earned its household name popularity when receiving a repeat run on BBC1 in 1968, having originally been screened on BBC2 the year before. At the time, the majority of the country’s viewers couldn’t receive the Beeb’s second channel on their ageing 405-line sets, so it was a shrewd move by BBC1, intended to justify the considerable expense spent on the serial. One is made aware of just how poor the image quality must have been on those 60s tellies when watching ‘The Forsyte Saga’ on DVD today; some of the makeup used to age the actors doesn’t necessarily bear up to digital scrutiny.

Glancing through musty copies of the Radio Times from the early 70s, it’s surprising how few repeats there actually are in the listings, something that contradicts the complaints about repeats even then. It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that complicated Equity rules regarding repeat fees throughout the 70s effectively limited how many programmes could actually be repeated; moreover, there was a gradual reluctance to rerun monochrome programmes from the 60s when the BBC and ITV were forever extolling the superior delights of colour television. And, lest we forget, the standard practice of wiping shows not long after their initial broadcast precluded them being seen again, anyway. Television had been, for most of its life, a transient medium that existed very much in the present; but that was about to change.

By the mid-70s, television had been around long enough to begin developing a sense of its own history, and the first wave of TV anniversary shows, such as the BBC’s ‘Forty Years’ in 1976, belatedly awakened the compilers of programmes reliant on archive material just how poorly-served the archives were. Added to this, there was an increasing interest in the back catalogues of long-running series like ‘Doctor Who’; even if there was no real medium available for the commercial release of the series’ archive, the salvaging of old episodes poised to be incinerated began in earnest during this period.

The arrival of Channel 4 in 1982 not only ushered in a fresh age of edgy broadcasting reflecting the here and now; it also revived several series that hadn’t had a decent repeat run in years, though the approach of this new kid on the broadcasting block to television’s heritage was as different to the regional ITV companies’ repeat policies as a charity shop is from a vintage one. The likes of ‘The Avengers’, ‘The Prisoner’, ‘Budgie’ and ‘Callan’ weren’t hidden away in the twilight hours, but given prime-time slots and elevated to the status of classics. Enough time had now passed since their first broadcasts to warrant the label.

The growth in the home video market from the early 80s onwards was initially focused on the produce of the movie industry, but television soon realised the potential too. VCRs sent many broadcasters scuttling in the direction of their depleted archives, hoping they could find the odd episode of a once-beloved series to stick out on VHS for twenty quid. Even if the rare case of a series preserved in its entirety meant it could have received a full video release, tapes were extremely expensive to buy at the time and could usually only hold a couple of episodes of anything at most. Many favourite series I now own in full on DVD were ones I just had a few episodes of on VHS releases for years; and in a lot of cases, the complete series on DVD cost about the same as two episodes on one tape would have cost me twenty-five years ago. Not all progress is bad.

The deregulation of TV in the wake of the 1990 Broadcasting Act meant there were many more channels suddenly available, though with numerous hours to fill, the cheapest way of filling them was to repeat old programmes. Yet, this also nicely chimed with an upsurge in nostalgia amongst 30-somethings for childhood shows; and when the more obvious and best-remembered of these finished their runs, one intriguing side-effect was that channels such as UK Gold and Granada Plus were then forced to excavate programmes that, in some cases, hadn’t been seen on British television for twenty years or more. Mid-90s off-air recordings of these can still sometimes surface on YouTube.

The arrival of the DVD and the innovation of the box-set finally took the decision of what old shows would or wouldn’t be repeated out of the hands of the broadcasters and did what even the VHS failed to do – it enabled fans to own the complete series of a favourite programme at a reasonable price, and usually (when old prints were digitally cleaned-up) in a better condition than even when they’d first been transmitted on TV. Companies like Simply Media, Acorn, 2 entertain and, best of all, Network have ploughed a similar path to the oldies channels of the 90s by following the release of the best-remembered series with the availability of the half-remembered and the near-forgotten; the half-remembered and the near-forgotten, however, are often worth investing in if one is interested in archive TV, as they regularly throw up pleasant surprises.

Whilst the advent of Netflix and other similar systems are now being heralded as not only the end of old-style appointment TV on terrestrial channels but as the end of the DVD box-set as well, when it comes to archive television it would seem the DVD is still its most fitting home. Yes, it may also be its retirement home; but opting out of television’s endless peak-time talent contests by escaping into a parallel universe of personal choice is the same as rejecting the radio and sticking the music on that you want to hear rather than the music someone else is shoving down your throat. At the moment, I’m back with Edward Woodward and his hygienically-challenged sidekick Lonely as they slip in and out of their shadowy and seedy, vanished 70s landscape of Cold War wallpaper. And in 2017, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.

© The Editor

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THE 25-YEAR ITCH

Not that long since, I switched on the TV and BBC2 was showing a Dara O’Briain gig; it was only when the credits rolled at the end that I realised the programme was a repeat from five years previously. There was nothing visually on display to suggest it was that old; the appearance of the members of the audience and the star of the show himself implied it could have been recorded last week. I momentarily imagined it was 1981 and I was viewing a Jasper Carrott gig from 1976; the difference in the hairstyles and clothes would have been so glaring that it would have been instantly obvious this was five years old.

If we were to study photographs of street scenes taken over the last twenty years, I surmise it would probably be difficult to discern which images were oldest and which were most recent; the members of the public caught on camera wouldn’t look much different in any of them. Compare a street scene between, say, 1964 and 1974 or 1974 and 1984, however, and it would be instantly identifiable as to which decade the photos belonged in. Whenever ‘Starsky & Hutch’ was re-run in the mid-1980s, the dated dress-sense of the two lead characters marked it out from another era as much as the sleeve of the ‘Saturday Night Fever’ soundtrack LP did, yet both were from less than ten years before.

Anyone who lived through the 60s, 70s and 80s was given something of a false impression that popular culture was built on shifting sands, a fluid, ever-changing creature that existed in a permanent state of transition – or at least the impression given was that this would always be the case. It hadn’t been before, though. Compare (if you can) family photos from before and after the war; the men have regulation short-back-and-sides and are wearing suits on either side of the conflict; there’s little to distinguish the male figures in the images from the 30s and the 50s. With the women, there are subtle differences in their hairstyles and the height of their hemlines, but it’s not that dramatic. What would soon become ‘teenagers’ resemble Mini-Me versions of their parents; by the beginning of the 70s, it would be the parents looking to their children for tips on how to dress.

From the 60s onwards, the people mirrored the trend-setters in a way that was new. The death of haut-couture that was brought about by the likes of Mary Quant and Barbara Hulanicki took fashion from the exclusive houses of Paris and Rome and passed it down to the high-street – affordable for the masses because the masses had produced the trend-setters, whether Twiggy or Brian Jones. The growth of mass-media via television also brought this into living rooms and out of the pages of ‘Vogue’, no longer elite or expensive. It was social mobility’s sartorial incarnation and what had once been seen as the province of the ‘poofy’ and effeminate eventually reached defiantly masculine professions such as mining or football – all in the space of less than a decade.

From the dandified poseurs of 1968 to the scruffy hippie hobos of 1971, from the platform-heeled Glam wannabes of 1973 to the spiky-haired and safety-pinned Punks of 1977, and from the floppy-haired New Romantics of 1981 to the football hooligan sportswear chic of 1985’s Casuals, the pace of life as lived through its fashions was breathless. The soundtrack to this frenetic rummaging in the dressing-up-box was no less speedy. At the end of the 70s and into the 80s, it went from Punk, New Wave and Two-Tone to Synth-Pop in the space of around three years, with a figure such as Gary Numan acting as an effective bridge between the two decades, with one foot in both of them without really belonging to either as they have come to be retrospectively remembered. This wasn’t destined to last. It couldn’t.

The Acid House scene that went over-ground in 1988 was the grand finale of the era that had begun with the moral panic of Rock ‘n’ Roll thirty years previously. The whole Rave culture remained the cutting-edge until around 1992, when The Shamen’s chart-topping ‘Ebeneezer Goode’ signalled it was essentially over as a subversive sound, despite the controversy surrounding the single’s drug wordplay. Running parallel with the Dance dominance as the 80s gave way to the 90s was the mainstream breakthrough of Hip Hop, something that had slowly grown in influence throughout the decade. In a sartorial sense, the Hip Hop look proved to be the blueprint for the street-wear that has been the default style of youth for the last twenty-five years.

As their circulation figures plummeted in the face of online competition, the old music papers struggled to invent cults in the established traditions as the twenty-first century staggered into a cultural cul-de-sac. ‘Hoodies’ were not comparable to Mods and Rockers, as a hoodie is simply an item of clothing that can be worn by anyone under a certain age and is not tribally specific. Similarly, what is held up as an example of a contemporary cutting-edge sound such as Grime is not necessarily doing anything that the likes of So Solid Crew weren’t doing fifteen years ago. When a product-placement multi-millionaire showbiz businessman like Jay-Z is a role model (basically Victor Kiam with a break-beat) where be the Revolution?

Now that a quarter-of-a-century has passed since the last old-school youth-quake that was Acid House ended and the evidence that pop culture has entered an era of suspended animation is right there in the world outside your window with every passer-by, perhaps it’s time to admit an epoch is over and we are living in musical and sartorial stasis. The age of constant change that characterised the 50s up until the 90s now feels like an aberration in cultural terms; the world has reverted to type, a world in which every development is merely an exercise in recycling and therefore takes us round in ever-decreasing circles. For those of us who were either in the thick of it or caught the coat-tails of it, we should count ourselves lucky.

© The Editor

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GONE WITH NOAKES

Before hyperactive twenty-somethings, uncles used to be the model – lacking the stern authority of father-figures, managing to earn respect with lingering juvenile slapstick silliness; when I was the child watching, uncles were everywhere. Derek Griffiths and Brian Cant on ‘Play School’ and ‘Play Away’; Tony Hart on ‘Vision On’; Johnny Morris on ‘Animal Magic’; Roy Castle on ‘Record Breakers’; yes…Rolf Harris; and then there were John Noakes and Peter Purves on ‘Blue Peter’. With the news that Noakes has passed away at the age of 83, having mercifully evaded the pernicious net of malicious revisionism that hangs over his television era, those of my generation cannot help but recall how much he meant to us at the time.

John Noakes joined ‘Blue Peter’ as a very young-looking 30-year-old when his far-from spectacular acting career was floundering. Becoming the third member of the team in 1965, he was quite unlike anyone to have appeared on children’s TV previously. Christopher Trace and Valerie Singleton were very much in a 50s parental mould – RP-speaking, frightfully middle-class and sensible; they represented the norm. Noakes was Northern and didn’t hide his Yorkshire accent, for one thing; and he never talked down to the audience, communicating with them in their own language. It never looked as if Noakes’ mother took a comb to his hair, so he was definitely ‘one of us’.

John Noakes was also child-like in his anarchic recklessness, quickly earning a reputation as something of an amateur daredevil that saw him put in situations that would today provoke a cardiac arrest in most Health and Safety Officers. He climbed up one of the chimneys at Fulham Power Station, up Nelson’s Column, up the mast 127 feet above the deck of HMS Ganges; he skydived with the RAF; and had a lucky escape when tobogganing at 90mph. There was a fearlessness to him that seemed to echo the tree-climbing zest for life his core viewing public were encouraged to believe they would one day grow out of. He clearly hadn’t grown out of it, so there was hope for all of us.

It later emerged that Noakes’ popularity with the young audience was something of an irritant to his on-screen sidekick Peter Purves. Not that the two men didn’t get on – far from it; but it seems Purves resented having to play ‘the straight man’ to Noakes’ comedy character; perhaps that’s why Purves went for the cool dude look, straight out of Carnaby Street. It was then up to Valerie Singleton to play the responsible parent to an unruly rascal and a coiffured dandy, keeping the boys in order. Singleton was the studio representative of the show’s backstage editor Biddy Baxter, whose strict headmistress persona often clashed with Noakes’ instinctive rebel. But the off-screen tensions benefitted the programme, as Noakes became (and remains) the longest-serving presenter in its history, clocking-in at 12 years 6 months.

One of the more ingenious ideas ‘Blue Peter’ came up with was to introduce dogs and cats as surrogate pets for those children watching whose parents wouldn’t allow them to keep either (me included). It was also an astute move in that animals are one of the best ways in for children to learn about the cycle of life in that they die after a few short years. Petra and Jason were the original dog and cat members of the line-up and when the series decided to keep one of Petra’s puppies Patch as the second canine star of the show, Noakes was entrusted to look after him. The first lesson of the life cycle came for ‘Blue Peter’ viewers in 1971 when Patch suddenly died after catching a rare disease during location filming. A few months later, his replacement appeared and a legendary double-act was born in the process, John Noakes and Shep.

The Border collie appeared to be the perfect best friend for a man like John Noakes; he was just as silly and loveable as Noakes himself. In fact, the two were so inseparable that they even gained their own spin-off series, ‘Go with Noakes’, in which John and Shep went on their travels around the country, usually indulging in the more energetic rural pursuits. By the mid-70s, John Noakes was one of the most famous faces on British television and it was all-but impossible to imagine ‘Blue Peter’ without him. However, that moment came in June 1978, barely three months after Peter Purves had also walked; for the children watching, both ‘Blue Peter’ and children’s television would never be quite the same again.

The clash between Noakes and Biddy Baxter wasn’t eased by his departure; although Shep was technically ‘BBC property’, Noakes was told he could take Shep with him when he left the programme as long as he didn’t capitalise on their celebrity by advertising products on ITV. Noakes agreed and then promptly did a dog food commercial with a Shep lookalike, infuriating Baxter. The ill-feeling lasted a long time, with Noakes refusing to participate in any of the programme’s anniversary reunions until Baxter had herself retired. The feud was a shame in that both contributed hugely to the success of the show and made it one of the jewels in the BBC’s children’s crown during a genuine golden age.

In the years after his ‘Blue Peter’ career ended, Noakes appeared occasionally on TV, presenting a regional series called ‘Country Calendar’ for Yorkshire Television in the early 80s and then largely popping up as a guest blast from the past here and there. His public bitterness about his ‘Blue Peter’ years was, to those of us for whom he was a hero, a bit like finding out your dad had been having an affair throughout his marriage to your mum. It sours the memory a little, but can’t take away the warmth that memory continues to generate. Patch and Shep were my dogs, Jason was my cat, and John Noakes was my daft uncle. Just as they all were to everyone else my age. RIP.

© The Editor

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BONFIRE OF THE SEVENTIES

Anyone remember the Big Society? In conjunction with David Cameron’s grand scheme to get us all collective (bit Socialist-sounding, really) there was a survey carried out intended to establish a ‘happiness scale’; there had been precedents, though. Previous surveys along similar lines had come to unexpected conclusions. According to records, the happiest the British populace has ever been recorded as being was in 1976. That’s right – the year when Labour Chancellor Denis Healey went cap-in-hand to the IMF for a loan to prevent Britain’s bankruptcy and Punk emerged as youth culture’s reaction to the perilous state of the nation. Lest we forget, however (if we’re old enough, of course), it was also the year of the Long Hot Summer; whether or not the survey was undertaken when the country was basking in the sunshine history doesn’t record, though it might explain the surprising results.

All of which leads us nicely into the shock-horror headlines on the front of today’s Mail and Telegraph, announcing Jezza’s apparent intentions to take us back to that much-maligned decade; aside from me wondering whether or not a journalist from those esteemed organs had stumbled upon the video I attached to a post on here a couple of days ago, my first thought was that their opposition to the prospect was understandable from a Tory perspective. Bar three-and-a-half years between June 1970 and February 1974 as well as the last seven months of 1979, the Conservative Party was out of office; and its 1970-74 government was led by the perennially-discredited Edward Heath. Mrs T came into office too late to make a real mark on the 70s. To regard a return to the 70s as the worst nightmare of the said papers and their readership is something of an understatement.

The claim of Corbyn’s intent derives from the leaked Labour manifesto for the upcoming General Election that hardly contained much in the way of surprises. Renationalising the railways has been a stated policy ever since Jezza became Labour leader and one that many old Tories – Peter Hitchens included – have no ideological argument with; privatisation of the railways was not one of the most successful or celebrated privatisations, after all. Reversing part-privatisation of the NHS is another policy few would dispute; Blair’s public-private partnership project is one whose disastrous legacy is all-too evident. And then there’s the abolition of tuition fees; when a generation of journos and politicos who enjoyed the luxury of state student grants oppose the revival of the system they benefitted from, one cannot but question their opposition.

The right and the left’s negative narrative of the 1970s has merged in recent years so that the decade has been rebranded as an era when bolshie commie unions held the country to ransom whilst the establishment allowed them to get away with it because it was too preoccupied with molesting children on an industrial scale; the people, on the other hand, turned a blind eye because their attention was distracted by the desire to acquire the latest must-have household appliances and dressing like the Diddy Men, preventing them from sitting up and taking notice. Operations Yewtree, Midland and Conifer have all played their pernicious parts in this historical revisionism, along with endless ‘wise-after-the-event’ clips programmes on crap channels fronted by talking heads who weren’t even around at the time. Like any negative narrative, however, there is an alternative viewpoint.

One could cite the democratisation of popular culture, when the 60s revolution enjoyed by an elite few finally filtered down to the masses and Joe Public experienced a brief liberation from both sartorial and moral straitjackets, as a plus; ditto the increased significance of that popular culture in daily life, where it had an importance above and beyond the leisure industry it now represents. New releases by David Bowie or Pink Floyd were artistic events rather than coffee-table merchandise; ditto small-screen landmarks such as ‘The Naked Civil Servant’ or ‘Roots’, giving a voice and opening eyes to those who had previously been denied a wider spotlight, reflecting the genuine and valid rise in political awareness of women, gays and ethnic minorities.

The police force may have been inherently bent and guilty of persecuting said minorities, but no more than they are in the twenty-first century. A female head of the Met means bugger all beyond politically-correct tokenism, particularly when Cressida Dick’s role in the disgraceful Jean Charles de Menezes affair is taken into account.

For the Mail and the Telegraph, a return to the values and ethos of the most revised and reviled decade of recent history being the ultimate horror story makes logical sense from their perspective, though no politician can turn back the clock in the way their headlines imply. If that was literally possible, then I’d have to head back to my primary school in the autumn, even though it closed about ten years ago. Whilst getting ready for school, I’d be able to switch on the radio and be faced with a choice of Noel Edmonds or Terry Wogan, and the only telly I’d see before the late afternoon would either be a solitary schools programme in the library or (if I decided to go home for dinner) ‘Pipkins’ and ‘Farmhouse Kitchen’. I’d also not have to concern myself with bills and rent, though 50p-a-week pocket-money might just cover them, anyway.

Yes, that’s how silly this storm-in-a-teacup really is; and if this is the best the right-wing press can come up with to combat a threat from Labour that they’re simultaneously telling us isn’t a threat at all when Theresa May’s coronation is a nailed-on certainty, one has to wonder what all the fuss is about. It couldn’t be that they actually believe the unthinkable is possible, could it?

© The Editor

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BARRY ISLAND

Alas, poor Barry; I knew him well. I knew a few, actually, though most belonged to the parent generation when I was a kid; I can only recall one Barry I was at school with, and even then his name seemed curiously old-fashioned for someone my own age. I imagine if every other classmate of mine didn’t have a dad called Barry, they most likely had an Uncle Barry or their father had a ‘mate’ called Barry; it was a defiantly adult name, and there were lots of prominent Barry’s at the time – singers Gibb, White, Manilow, McGuire and Ryan; actor Foster (AKA Van Der Valk); sports commentator Davies; comedians Cryer and Humphries; film critic Norman; and ‘Points of View’ presenter Took to name a few.

Virtually all of the above listed were born in the 1930s or 40s, a time when Barry as a Christian name was at its most popular amongst bouncing babies. It seems to have gone into decline as a name to bestow upon newborns in the post-war era, though the plentiful supply of adult Barry’s placed it at No.61 in the top 100 names in 1962; it continued to feature in the charts throughout the 70s, but recent decades have seen a swift decline. Barry hasn’t even figured in the top 1000 of late, with its last appearance being back in 2004, when it peaked at a lowly No.963. Had the concept of naming a digital TV channel ‘Dave’ taken place in the 70s (the thinking being every bloke has a mate called Dave), chances are the station would have been called ‘Barry’.

Barry, as with contemporaries such as Brian and Trevor, not to mention successors such as Gary and Darren, has fallen out of favour, with the holders of the name so few and far between under a certain age that one almost feels it to be on a par with those increasingly rare breeds of giant tortoises. Perhaps the answer to the question where have all the Barry’s gone could be that the remaining Barry’s now all reside on a distant, largely inaccessible island, dwindling year-by-year as the extinction of their species beckons. And, of course, the name of the island is a given. I would imagine there are possibly neighbouring islands reserved for ageing ladies who once resided in Weatherfield like Audrey, Deirdre, Rita and Hilda.

Mind you, there are many Christian names that were popular when I was at school forty years ago that have vanished off the radar where children are concerned. Tracie, in its various spelling permutations, doesn’t seem so common now, yet every other little girl I knew when I was a little boy appeared to be called Tracie. Then again, names like Tracie or Sharon – along with Kevin, another 70s playground perennial – have been somewhat tarnished in a snob assault over the last couple of decades, associated with ‘the common people’ and perceived as lacking class. This snooty ridiculing of certain names has definitely had a knock-on effect in the places where they were once virtually compulsory; and nobody wants their name to be associated with the butt of jokes.

The class factor is highly relevant, for glancing through some of the top contemporary baby names for both sexes shows a resurgence of Victorian-era names that were traditionally the province of the middle or upper classes or had some Biblical connotations – Oliver, Hugo, Noah, Jacob, Ethan, Silas, Abel, Gideon, Lucian, Isaiah, Oscar and the inevitable Muhammad for boys; Sophia, Isabella, Emily, Penelope, Annabel, Eleanor, Madeline, Juliet, Arabella for girls. It’s almost as though parents today believe gifting their bundle of joy with a vaguely pretentious moniker that implies ‘class’ is giving them a head start in the lifelong (and now essentially futile) race known as social-climbing.

At the same time, there has also been an unlikely revival of names nobody under fifty had when I was a kid – Alfie, Archie, Harry, Jack, Charlie, Lily, Elsie, Molly – ones I would have once categorised as ‘old biddy names’. Although these are all traditional working-class names, they’re ones that haven’t been around for generations, and I suspect the parents who have reintroduced them are too young to have the flat-cap or hairnet associations they evoke in me. They probably also regard these ones as classy.

Of course, names come in and out of fashion with each generation, and pop culture is often a barometer of when one was born; I suppose there’s a sizeable amount of thirty-something Kylie’s in the UK today, and it’s a fair bet that few of them were born before a certain Aussie soap debuted on the BBC in 1986. And staying with our antipodean cousins, apparently the early 70s popularity of ‘Jason King’ down under led to Jason becoming one of the most widespread boys’ names there; if that meant today’s Australian forty-somethings were prone to swanning around in smoking jackets and speaking with Peter Wyngarde accents, what a wonderful world it would be. But I think it underlines how whatever happens to be in a name is no real pointer to what life has lined-up for the sprog lumbered with it.

At one time, a ‘poncy’ Christian name in a hardcore working-class environment would lead to situations at school that parents stubbornly refused to foresee when gathered around the font. I remember a classmate called Kenneth being regularly ribbed simply because his name sounded a bit ‘posh’, though I would imagine it was hardly uncommon at public schools during the same era. Today, however, there is such an abundance of once-poncy names in the state classroom that anybody called Kevin or Sharon is more likely to be a target for sticks and stones than an Oliver or a Penelope.

Having said that, spare a thought for the dying breed that is the Barry; will he ever be reintroduced to society, where he can perhaps go forth and multiply so that once again his numbers have risen and he can walk amongst his fellow Brian’s and Trevor’s and re-inherit the earth? Only time – and fashion – will tell. Until then, RIP Barry. I knew you well.

© The Editor

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LET’S TALK ABOUT SEX

001-copyThere is an episode of ‘The Simpsons’ in which Bart is told the facts of life in characteristically clumsy fashion by his father as the camera then pans away to an aerial view of Springfield whilst Homer’s son and heir criss-crosses the landscape, running to and from the homes of each friend to pass on the news; upon learning the truth of what their parents did, Bart’s pals react in identical fashion – with utter disgust. My own awakening was less dramatic, provided by the BBC in its most benevolent mode. Thanks to my personal Radio Times archive, I can narrow down the day to May 3 1977, when the Beeb’s schools & colleges service screened the first episode of ‘Merry Go Round: Sex Education’.

Hearing words such as penis and vagina in a non-playground context provoked the odd snigger in the little library where we normally viewed less revelatory schools broadcasts, but all my memory can recall from the transmission is film of a baby being born. Back then, of course, fathers – let alone children – were effectively barred from being present at the moment when the latest addition to the family arrived; Frank Spencer’s weird request to attend the birth of Betty’s baby was met with hilarity by the audience viewing ‘Some Mothers Do Ave Em’ in 1973, so seeing this on a schools programme was quite an eye-opener.

I honestly can’t remember if I knew where babies came from at the time I watched ‘Merry Go Round’, but I don’t think it was something I was that curious about. My mum had one when I was five, and I never once asked her how it had ended up in her stomach. Yes, I was aware that women had sex appeal courtesy of the culture, whether Benny Hill, page 3, the ‘naughty cinemas’ in the city centre, or what my dad referred to as the ‘lorry drivers’ magazines’ he sometimes kept stashed in the shed. But I don’t think I equated any of that with babies. Sex itself was merely a rude word associated with tits ‘n’ bums, and being a child in the 70s was sometimes akin to living in a saucy seaside postcard. Other than the naked breasts that caught my prepubescent eye in the Daily Mirror’s comic strip, ‘Garth’, I don’t recall being that interested.

Backtracking to when I began school at the age of four-going-on-five, I’d honestly never heard the word sex. All I was interested in was comics, fantastical monsters, and the nascent Glam Rock scene; one of my earliest school memories is singing my own interpretation of ‘Blockbuster’ with my first bezzy mate in the playground the day after The Sweet had performed it on ‘Top of the Pops’. What did I care about sex education then? Were I undergoing the same process today, I’d find that sex education was part of the infant school curriculum and the mysteries of reproduction wouldn’t be withheld for another four years; they’d apparently be there straight away, alongside learning the rudimentary basics of maths, English or geography. No longer prolonging ‘innocence’ (for want of a better word) may be deemed the sensible approach, but is it the right one?

I don’t know why I had a soft spot for certain girls in my various classes during the years leading up to May 1977, but I would claim them as ‘my girlfriend’ as a consequence; merely causing my embryonic heart to skip a beat was enough justification for the label, even if the unfortunate maidens were unaware of it. I won’t name any of them on the extremely rare off-chance they may stumble upon this post, but they were no more girlfriends of mine than any of the TV Goddesses who had a similar effect on me through this period, whether Susan Dey in ‘The Partridge Family’ or Katy Manning on ‘Doctor Who’. Sorry to use the same word again, but it was all extremely innocent. Sex didn’t come into it. I simply warmed and responded to feminine beauty.

Yesterday, Education Secretary Justine Greening announced that sex and ‘relationships’ education will be compulsory in all English schools from the moment schooling begins. Ms Greening said that children will be taught about ‘safe and healthy relationships’ as soon as they are indoctrinated into the system. I have no qualms with children receiving such lessons when they’re on the cusp of puberty and are potentially poised to encounter sexual intimacy; the high teenage pregnancy rates in this country make such knowledge essential if they’re to be reduced. But four-year-olds?

What the hell does a four-year-old know or want to know about ‘safe and healthy relationships’? Most four-year-olds are still prone to going to the toilet in their trousers. They eat their own bogies. They bite their toenails. They think ‘poo’ is the funniest word in the English language. They can barely read or write and don’t know how to tell the time. They’re still working out how the world works, and that doesn’t include ‘safe and healthy relationships’ – or, as described by Russell Hobby, General Secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT – ‘appropriate relationships’. Exactly how is an ‘appropriate relationship’ defined to a four-year-old?

Fair enough, if we’re in the Paedo Park, warn them against talking to strangers; I had that courtesy of ‘Charley Says’ when I was a kid and I also received the same advice from my parents. I didn’t need a union leader to tell me what was appropriate or inappropriate, and being hounded by dirty old men promising puppies hardly constitutes a ‘relationship’ anyway.

Perhaps this is a knee-jerk response to the so-called scourge of internet pornography; but though the theory goes that porn is accessible to any age-group in 2017, porn was equally accessible forty-odd years ago, albeit in different forms. No off-school roam around a playing field or woods was complete in the 70s without stumbling upon a discarded copy of some gentleman’s magazine; generally soft-core, of course, but still highly visible. It maintained its mystique then because we had to wait until we reached the age of nine before the great mystery was unveiled.

I don’t personally believe that, by the time I was old enough to act upon my natural impulses, I’d been held back because I hadn’t been taught about either ‘safe and healthy’ or ‘appropriate’ relationships as a four-year-old. Looking back, it’s nice to think I was spared all that shit for so long.

© The Editor

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EVE OF DESTRUCTION

pistols-1Considering the abundance of pop cultural anniversaries that have been marked here this year, it seems somewhat churlish to ignore an obvious one that was unleashed on an unsuspecting public forty years ago this month. I would have hesitated, as 2016’s corporate celebrations of the movement it sprang from seem so at odds with what it was supposed to represent that I really didn’t want any part of it. Having said that, the fact that Punk has been absorbed into the Rock Heritage industry could be judged as final confirmation that it belonged to the same tradition it was determined to destroy. And when The Sex Pistols were once referred to as ‘the obituary of Rock n Roll’, I think there’s more than a grain of truth in the argument that they were the end game of a revolution that had begun twenty years previously.

By November 1976, the PR machine of EMI was working hard to promote their new signings, and the imminent release of the debut Sex Pistols single was bigged-up by the company’s plugging hustler Eric Hall doing his best to gain the band some airtime. After a Radio 1 ‘Newsbeat’ interview with Johnny Rotten and Steve Jones, a performance on a yoof-orientated ‘Nationwide’ spin-off presented rather bizarrely by ‘Play Away’ star and one-time pop singer Lionel Morton was the first public exposure on TV after the band had signed on the dotted line; they’d received regional coverage a few months earlier on Janet Street Porter’s ‘London Weekend Show’, but now that the weight of the country’s leading record company was behind them, The Sex Pistols were poised to emerge from the underground.

Those in the know – i.e. regular readers of the music press and pub gig-goers – had observed the steady spread of the whole Punk subculture and its leading bands throughout 1976, though the general public outside of the King’s Road were largely ignorant of its existence. At the time, the consensus amongst music journalists was that Punk would deal a fatal blow to the 60s survivors and 70s superstars as well as the Prog Rockers; they were deemed to be the enemy.

The fact is that, though both scored top ten singles in 1976, The Rolling Stones and The Who were way past their best, anyway; Prog’s key landmark albums had already been released and the genre had slipped into rehash and retread; and while Led Zeppelin, Elton John and Rod Stewart had all hit their creative peaks, the likes of Pink Floyd, Queen, 10cc and ELO still had more to offer, as did David Bowie. The latter had adopted his Thin White Duke persona that year, returning to the British stage for the first time since Ziggy’s retirement, causing controversy with his so-called ‘Nazi salute’ at Victoria Station, and preparing to release his most radical album to date, ‘Low’. He was nowhere near being a spent force.

The prevailing chart sound bar Disco in the mid-70s had been Teen Pop, which was ready to be put out of its misery by the time ‘Anarchy in the UK’ was ready for release. Appearing side-by-side with Glam Rock in the early 70s, Teen Pop shared the former’s nostalgia for the classic three-minute single and recycling the simplistic energy that had been lost during the elevation of Pop into Rock at the end of the 60s. Where it differed from Glam was that it eschewed the cross-dressing-up box and arty pretensions; the campy and decadent aspects of Glam were sidelined in favour of wholesome boy-next-door looks and an updated 50s image. Gary Glitter pioneered this distinction, but was swiftly succeeded by Alvin Stardust, Mud, The Rubettes, Showaddywaddy and The Bay City Rollers.

The phenomenal success of the Rollers in 1975 was founded on a string of singles rooted in the Glam formula, though even they struggled to keep the momentum going the following year. Malcolm McLaren later admitted his initial idea as manager of The Sex Pistols was to market them as the Rolling Stones to the Rollers’ Beatles, which says more about which section of the record-buying public his eye was focused on – contradicting the retrospective viewpoint that Punk was supposed to be the Peasants’ Revolt for Prog. Such was the climate The Sex Pistols gatecrashed. Late Teen Pop arrivals such as Hello, Kenny, Slik and Flintlock enabled pop shows like ITV’s ‘Supersonic’ to continue soldiering on, though all were eclipsed in ’76 not by The Sex Pistols, but by Abba.

Bucking the here today/gone tomorrow Eurovision trend, Abba’s songwriting strength-in-depth and the photogenic appeal of Agnetha and Frida steered them away from the cabaret circuit and towards the top of pop’s premier league in 1976. They became the first act to score a trio of chart-toppers in a calendar year since Slade in 1973 and also managed to cross the great divide by being equally successful in the LP charts. The novelty of a two guys/two girls band from a country with no previous pop pedigree made them stand out from the crop of Rollers imitators, and while they were quite capable of composing a ditty with the deceptive surface of bubblegum, their songs had an undercurrent of Nordic melancholy giving them a depth that the competition in the charts lacked.

However, what the charts really lacked in 1976 was the concept of music as a lethal weapon, a nasty virus that could split the generations and give teenagers the kind of anti-heroes they hadn’t had since the Shock Rock of Alice Cooper at his peak. The Sex Pistols seemed to be the answer, and when Eric Hall fixed them a blind date with Bill Grundy on teatime TV, Fleet Street sniffed blood and the public responded accordingly, rekindling an outrage that had been sedated by the trappings of success.

‘Anarchy in the UK’, ‘God Save the Queen’ and ‘Pretty Vacant’ share the same lineage as ‘Satisfaction’ and ‘My Generation’, and in that respect The Sex Pistols are less a break with the Rock n Roll story as the final chapter of it. After Punk and its various offshoots, the electric guitar would become an instrument as relevant to progress and change as the harpsichord; the future would be electronic. What Punk amounted to was the last rebellious roar of a musical genre before it was reborn as the (admittedly enjoyable) museum piece we recognise today.

© The Editor

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