Monday, November 29, 2004

No, Listen

Reading reviews of a new biography of Frankie Howerd I again gave thanks that this was one comedy legend I saw live on stage.
Always a nervous performer, Frankie must have decided we were going to be a difficult audience. So he sent one of the support acts out in front of the curtain to announce "It's with great regret that I have to tell you......." leading us to think that he hadn't turned up. He could then capitalise on our relief as he emerged hesitantly from the wings, tugging at his crotch and saying nothing was where it should be. Maybe this was a tactic he regularly used in provincial theatres.
There were many remarkable things about Frankie Howerd. His act was a triumph of style over substance. He seldom told actual jokes and when he did they were ancient and corny and only there as a peg on which to hang his patter, if something so stammering and disjointed can be called patter.
Those who saw him only on TV wouldn't realise what a physical presence he had on stage. He was a large man and, if you were at the front of the stalls, he was quite intimidating, even though he rarely picked on members of the audience.
He did his trademark trick of whispering conspiratorially about the theatre manager, with frequent peering into the wings to make sure the poor man wasn't listening. This probably worked better in smaller towns where the manager would be known to most people, if only by name. It's impossible to explain why any of these Howerd techniques should have been so funny and futile to argue with anyone who thought they weren't.
A lot of stories have emerged about him since his death, portraying him a a 'predatory homosexual'. (Funny how heterosexuals are never 'predatory'. 'Promiscuous', yes; even 'sex-crazed' but never 'predatory'). But the extraordinary thing about Frankie Howerd is that none of us thought of him as gay, despite the fact that if you thought about it for more than 10 seconds it was blindingly obvious. For those of us for whom he had always been there he was just Frankie Howerd, a kind of funny uncle to the nation. The sad thing is that the waves of love that broke across the footlights every time he stood on a stage were probably never equalled in his private life. But the glorious conclusion to all the ups and downs of his career was that a new generation discovered him and embraced him as a cult figure even though, as he remarked during his final tour, "Can you believe I've been doing the same old rubbish for years?"


I've always had my doubts about the BBC's rush into digital channels so far ahead of analogue switch-off.
Now I see that BBC News 24 costs £1,000 per viewer. I often watch News 24. The problem is that as soon as a big story breaks I have to switch to Sky News because they usually get the stories first and they always stay with a breaking story and kick the rest of their schedule into touch.
The BBC simply doesn't understand what a rolling news channel is for. It's the equivalent of peering through your net curtains at a road accident outside. You may not be able to see very much but you don't want to miss anything. Sky understand this and will stay with even a minor story like the protester at Buckingham Palace, using a split screen if necessary. The BBC see it's twenty to the hour so they have to go to the business news.
None of this would matter if they were a commercial channel. But News 24 is costing £50M a year of licence-payers' money. If they can't get it right, it would be better spent on some decent drama, documentaries and arts programmes on their terrestrial channels.

Carlo has long been envious of the heavy metal that adorns Lee's fingers. 'Bling' is, I think, le mot courant.
Lee had promised to take him to Argos to buy some similar pieces of ironmongery but had to go to court instead to give moral support to his brother who was up on a twocking charge. So Carlo had to go to town on his own.
To simplify matters, he took some photographs with him of Lee's gold-encrusted fist so he could be sure of getting something equally tawdry, ostentatious and meretricious. But when I used these terms to Carlo he took them as the highest approbation and now thinks I want to share my home with someone who dresses like a pimp.
Unfortunately, the ladies on the Argos jewellery counter were not up to the task of dealing with someone with limited English waving a photograph under their noses. It didn't help that the first photo he showed them was the one he had taken of my belly button and they called Security. When this misunderstanding had been resolved, he was sent to do battle with the Argos catalogue on his own.
As a result, he came home with a crevice tool for a Dyson cleaner, a nasal hair trimmer and a grotesque pink toy called a Sunshine Buddy which silently nods its head, like Jack Straw at Prime Minister's Questions. He's actually quite delighted with the last (the Sunshine Buddy, not Jack Straw) and has put it by his bed. Since it's likely to be a more intellectually stimulating companion than Lee, perhaps it's all turned out for the best.
Next: Carlo looks forward to Blackpool


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