Wednesday, 30 May 2012

TV Nostalgia - Record Breakers

"What is the tallest building in the world?" or "Who holds the record for putting the most number of underpants on in a minute?" Questions, questions... All vital and sometimes amusing, though from a simple idea of putting the Guiness Book of Records on television came Record Breakers. 

The host Roy Castle would muck in himself, literally. The phrase jack of all trades is understated for Roy, an song and dance man, he transformed himself into a superman by setting three world records himself including wingwalking on a aeroplane across the channel! 

The weird and wonderful nature of the show allowed people to set record by balancing milk crates on their head, making it certainly a very unique way of delivering milk. The set piece record attempts, such as the biggest dance troupe in the world, which was so iconic that it was voted one of the most favourite TV moments of all time, when perfomed  it was so big that it filled the whole courtyard of BBC TV Centre full of tapping feet leaving Castle the only place to perform was a platform on the fountain in the middle, almost literally singing in the rain!

As always though the end theme tune said it all, dedication's all you need. The dedication of the viewers was enough to make sure that Record Breakers was a hit even after Roy Castle's death in 1994. As Roy would have surely said himself "How's about that for blowing your own trumpet, eh?"

Sunday, 20 May 2012

The Eurovision that nearly wasn't...

The Eurovision Song Contest of 1977 maybe be familiar to some because of the sight of Ronnie Hazelhurst dressed up in a suit and waistcoat conducting Lynsey De Paul and Mike Moran sung Rock Bottom or the talkback from the gallery of the late Stewart Morris which reveals how pressured a live event can be. 

The Brotherhood of Man had won the 1976 contest in The Netherlands meaning that the United Kingdom was to host the contest, 

Though the contest was a month later then it was originally planned to take place on the 2nd of April. Because of industrial action, the contest was postponed until the 7th of May. That is half the story though, involving Boadicea's Breastplate, lands afar, nudity and a tales of no 'nul points'. Now the evening got off to a somewhat bright start with host Angela Rippon who had been reporting on what was happening and contest was going to place during her day reading the news, came on wearing a dress which reflected more light then the whole of Wembley Stadium itself. Certainly giving a shock to the lighting depart when they saw this, but with Angela apparently looking like diva, looking to all parts of the auditorium at the Wembley Conference Centre, trying to find in the gloom which camera she was on. Though everything going on around them, revolves being set off instead of credit rollers plus when a cameraman tried to get a shot of the winner, he fell over backwards getting a black eye for his trouble and the people all around the world seeing a shot where from focussing on triumphant singer, got a shot rising above hear had and nearly of the ceiling before Stewart Morris cut to the stage. 

With Angela Rippon and other dignitaries to award the prize, trying to work out what was going on at this point. Marie Myriam of France, the winning singer was more concerned about the cameraman himself leading her to ask someone to get some ice for his bruised eye. Eventually she went to the stage to collect her prize and reperform her winning song and what happens in the following video reveals the talkback not normally heard by the public. But Morris ever the professional takes all of this in his stride and controls the situation to make it look normal to the viewer at home.

A masterclass from Stewart Morris

 Unlike this year's contest which has forty-two countries who will contest this year's edition, eighteen countries took part on the night. Until the final, there were going to be twenty but Tunsia who were going to perform fourth in the contest withdrew along with Yugoslavia, who next appeared again in 1981.

In the lead-up to the night, it was reported that the Belgium entry Dream Express were going to wear see-through tops on the night. But how much is this is true, can be down to the press reports of that time and newspaper trying to whip up a storm through this. But how much anything like that can be seen as a gimmick is down to the truth of the matter. 

On the actual night itself, the voting system seemed to go awry with the Greek jury awarding both 12 and 11 points instead of the 12 to 1 points system. The fact was that they had given four points to both Spain and Austria with the 3 to 1 points given to Finland, The Netherlands and United Kingdom. To sort this out Spain got four points and Austria got three and mean the other had one less and the United Kingdom did not even get one at all then. But the chaos continued though as France gave three points to both Greece and Israel, two to German and one to Austria and Belgium. Are you following this still? It is confusing and imagine having to deal with this lot, which they had to do.

So back to the scores, the Greek mark from the French remained as it did, Israel went down to two and Germany down to one meaning that Austria and Belgium now lost out because of this. To add to this, it all was done after the contest but three years later a more clearer system was set out so this could never happen again. 

France won the contest performing last on the night gaining 136 points, but only three maximum twelve points compared to Lynsey and Mike who got six maximums and finished second. Though overall sales of the record of Rock Bottom were really good and making the top ten in most European countries. Though the magical and legendary 'nul points' was not achieved this year with Sweden, the winners of course in 1974, three years on managed only to get two points just from Germany. Perennial high finishers Ireland took third place with The Swarbriggs who had represented Ireland in the 1975 contest, were joined by two lady singers to gain 133 points and four maximums including one from the United Kingdom. 

But if Ronnie Hazelhurst was conducting for the United Kingdom, then that Alyn Ainsworth who had resigned from the BBC in 1960 to go freelance was conducting for Belgium for the third year in a row ensuring on the big night, that although the United Kingdom did not win itself. It did  have a victory that two conductors were conducting on the big night itself, even thanks to a bit of friendly neighbourliness that Belgium got twelve point from The Nederland meaning both British  conductors could say that they had both got twelve points.

So after the roller had been run and the dust settled, it was off to France in 1978. The nezt British based contest would be in 1982 in Harrogate, but that's for another time... So if you watching the Eurovision Song Contest, enjoy it and I'll will be live tweeting along to the contest with observations and humour over at Twitter, just look up @boggenstrovia there and I'll be there...

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Milking the cash, Cowell...

So its finally over, the votes have been counted and the money split between its creator and and broadcaster. All ready to start all over again next year, I'm talking about Britain's Got Talent and let me say from the start I don't watch it. Now you're saying "Well why write about then and you're only going to dismiss it anyway!"

No and I'll tell you why, the show itself is one of many in a long line of talent shows which have been produced to satisfy the audience. Like one quote from the recent 'The Unforgettable Hughie Green' when one of the contributors was talking about Opportunity Knocks and Britain's Got Talent, they said "Same meat... Different Gravy..." Which is true, all talent shows can find their roots in Opportunity Knocks, no matter how they are judged. 

Now, I was a fan of the revival of Opportunity Knocks in the mid-1980's with both Bob Monkhouse and Les Dawson who took over from him. It was seen as a response to ITV's New Faces which had come back in 1985 with Marti Caine, a previous winner of the show herself. All these shows always had an element of public involvement, it was the public who influenced which act came back the next via a postal vote on the original Opportunity Knocks. For an audience knowing that they could have an effect on a television show was massive, read for mass audiences, mass appeal and mass influence.

"We'll be... Friends to the end!"
Rosser and Davies in full effect...

New Faces from ATV devised the panel to give advice, critique the acts and pass judgement. Tony Hatch, the songwriter was a key part of the balance to tell the audience how he though he act was and was plain speaking in the way that this was offered to the acts. This was seen as a 
departure to the norm by the press, having only seen people encouraging performers. Leading eventually to call Hatch 'The Hachetman' because of this. 

But from him through Nina Myskow to Simon Cowell, they are the pantomine villains but they are essential to a programme like this, meaning they are there to say the things that maybe no else would do. Cruel, maybe.. But important never the less. The experienced professionals who have seen it all before make for the balance of judges, rather then just blocking off, they are encouraging acts to improve. The likes of Arthur Askey are a case in point, the line can run through to David Walliams today, they may seem a million miles apart in their material but they share experience. 

For the flood of people who have said about a dog act winning Britain's Got Talent over another act, let's not forget that that was only a part of variety. With all angles covered by the show, it lets itself down down by having singing and dancing acts on the programme. OK, they part of of Opportunity Knocks, but there are so many shows which deal with nowadays, that they overshadow the other acts.

Last year, Paul Burling went into the final by doing impressions, he didn't but the exposure was enough to give him a pilot show on ITV. Rarely, do any acts from the show at least break through to get something like that. In reminding people of this, it has brought impressions back into the limelight, with Very Important People on Channel Four. The quality of that series may not be that good, but it shows there is a market for that branch of showbusiness again.

Britain's Got Talent is popular, plus if it means helping out the Artistes' Benevolent Fund, it is doing job. Sometimes we need a reminder of what variety is in all its forms, even taking on a form which means that it is put into a modern day context. It won't be quick disappearing off television screens soon, but variety is the spice of life and television can always do with that...

Sunday, 6 May 2012

What is a Musikantenstadl? Here's Andy Borg to explain...

So, it that time again once again when Germans, Austrians and the Swiss dress up and go for a night out at a Musikantenstadl. But I hear you say what is a Musikantenstadl? Well, that's what I first thought when I saw one New Year's Eve when flicking through the channel on the satellite system bored looking for something, anything to watch. As the time counted towards midnight in German, acts like Nana Mouskori and Roger Whittaker turned up to entertain the slowly inebriated audience. 

Compared to anything else I had seen this was like the Val Doonican shows of the past, but on a much bigger scale. Its so big that, the set is like one huge alpine lodge including bar serving drinks. Ok, that seemed like a one off thing but over time when ever it on, I have tuned in to see it.

With its genial host Andy Borg, a cross between Englebert Humperdinck and a yodeller, he holds the whole thing together in the face of all the acts and the audience who at any opportunity want to give the stars a bunch of flowers or chocolates to show their appreciation without even one security officer rushing in to stop them. A far cry from what would happen in this country if anyone was to do at any live programme or event.

Such is its appeal, that the show since 1981 has gone to China, Croatia, Dubai, Melbourne and Cape Town to entertain the people there. Its appeal itself is the total opposite to both The Voice and The X Factor in which performers love to perform for their audience and the range of people at such a show ranges from the very young to the very old.

But why can't this type of programme actually work even in a slimmed down version in Britain, when Val Doonican and Roger Whittaker could get large audiences at one time. Though a silent change has been happening with both Sir Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck being part of competions, especially with Englebert being announced as this year's entry for Eurovision. Who handedly produces Musikantenstadl for ARD, ORF and SF. Where they maybe seen as old fashioned by some, its interesting at one time they were leading pop music into light entertainment back in the late sixties.

So maybe its time to give the golden oldies another chance, besides its not how old you are, it wheither you can still entertain...