Tuesday, 9 October 2012

A smile and a goodbye

Things ain’t what they used to be

The size of Waggon Wheels says a lot about the state of this country in my opinion. I was chatting, tweeting even, to a friend the other day and he set me thinking because he was dreadfully upset about his Penguin bar, almost in tears he was.
They’re just not the same any more, and when I mentioned Waggon Wheels he almost had apoplexy.
“They’re like tiddlywinks compared to when I was a lad,” he sobbed. I had to agree.
I don’t have a sweet tooth often but I have noticed that since we joined the Common Market, or whatever we’re supposed to call it now, things have not been the same.
Jelly babies have become positively embryonic, wine gums have become a third of the size they were when I was at school and when did you last see a whopping great tomato in a supermarket? You won’t, because the supermarkets now employ people to make sure all fruit and veg  is of virtual uniformity and colour. The tomatoes have to stand to attention every morning while some sergeant major of an attendant inspects them and anything over a centimetre bigger than its neighbour is probably splatted with a swagger stick.
If a banana curves at more than the prescribed EU definition it is fed to the local zoo, gooseberries have been ordered to the barbers if they are too hairy, the list is endless.
I recall that Rileys toffee rolls were twice their size in my youth. We bought them in loose “quarters” then, that was sensible measurement, but now they’re shrunk wrapped in at least three layers of cellophane which is more designed to keep the flavour out than in. Mars bars are in serious danger of extinction if they get any smaller and gobstoppers simply can’t compete.
So why are we a nation of increasingly obese people if everything is getting smaller? That’s easy. Every café now seems to be serving “mega all day breakfasts” with enormous helpings of greasy spoon material, pizzas are getting bigger and it seems to be the norm now to walk down the street eating large pastries, spitting crumbs everywhere and heeding no one because there is a piece of electrical equipment plugged into every bodily orifice. Give it five years and some of these kids won’t know what birdsong and traffic sound like.
There is one saving grace to it all though, if they are run over by a Waggon Wheel it won’t do much damage.

The Swansea tribe

I have a fondness for quirky people and had to smile at the Swansea man who lives as an Apache Indian and was almost prosecuted for wanting to turn badger paws and eagle wings into a headress.
Mangas Colaradas, 60, was due to stand trial for keeping protected wild animal parts but the Crown Prosecution dropped the case. He brought the bits back from Spain, where he lived in a tepee, to his three-bed semi in Swansea.
He refused to reveal his real name and appeared in court wearing a ceremonial headdress, tassled suede jacket, moccasins and a snake’s head necklace.
He said, “I wear this all the time, I’m not just some weekend Indian. I don’t put it on to show off, I put it on because I want to wear it.”
Geronimo! You tell ‘em Mangas.

You must be joking

What passes for humour today often leaves me cold. Winner of the top joke at the Edinburgh Fringe was Stewart Francis with the offering, “Know who gives kids a bad name? Posh and Becks.”
Oh come on you can do better than that! What happened to the golden age which produced real comics such as Morecambe and Wise, Les Dawson and Dave Allen? They could not only deliver the stuff with immaculate timing but write it as well. Their actions and expressions were funny and they didn’t have to resort to the vernacular vulgarity so often see at televised fringe events where the laughter is canned and the comic probably should be.
Stewart Francis by the way is Canadian, which, if you’ve had a drink or two, sounds like comedian.

Big puss

I had many a laugh at Mrs Slocombe “having trouble with her pussy” in Are You Being Served, but I bet it wasn’t as big as this monster moggy which was returned by kidnappers .
Cupid is a pedigree Maine Coon worth £3,000 and was snatched from a back garden in Austria. A fortnight later he was back after police believe he ate the catnappers out of house and home.
A Maine Coon eats three or four times as much as an ordinary moggy and can scoff three tins of cat food at a single sitting. It is not unusual for them to weigh two stone.

A giant of television and film

In the world of the media there are few greats left. It has just lost one of the greatest in my friend and colleague, Norman Fenton, who has died aged 71.
I can never think of Norman without recalling one of his many hilarious stories which were all true. He was kidnapped during the Afghan War in Buenos Aires but true to form he turned the tables and ended up having dinner with a very drunk General Galtieri who spent the evening telling his stories while waving his ceremonial sword around his head.
Back in his semi-adopted Yorkshire he was also the man who made the late Richard Whiteley wear glasses after telling him he simply couldn’t get the tele-prompt any closer to him!
Born and brought up in Govan, Glasgow, the only son of a Scottish mother and an Irish father, he attended local schools and the University of Glasgow before starting his career, initially in radio, and then subsequently in television.
From 1961 he started working for the British Broadcasting Corporation, at BBC Scotland and at Bush House in London, becoming one of its few working-class, trainee assistant producers. By the time he joined Granada Television in 1966, as Network Promotions Director, he was well-versed in the world behind the camera. In 1968 he began working for Yorkshire Television as a Producer/Director of current affairs programmes. In his six years with the company he worked on studio, film and outside broadcasts on both local and network news. 
But his career really took off when he began working for Thames Television in 1974. Over the next ten years he produced over seventy films, many of them award-winning, for the “This Week” network series, and for its replacement “TV Eye”.
The subject matter for his films straddled the world - from the Yorkshire Ripper to Sherghar; the Polisario war in Western Sahara to the Lebanon; the Baader-Meinhof gang to Guatemala; Afghanistan to the Falklands War. 
Always thorough and truthful in his films he sought answers to questions that were often, deliberately, not asked by those in authority. 
One such bone he refused to let go of was the unexplained disappearance, in 1974, of the Hull trawler the “Gaul”, and its crew of 36 men. The UK authorities insisted that the wreck would be impossible to locate, but the families of the crew had equally insisted that the trawler had been involved in spying on the Soviet Northern Fleet. He made five films about this ship, finally locating and filming it on the seabed in Arctic waters.
He produced a film profile of President Gaddafi of Libya, filming, interviewing and travelling with him throughout Libya. During the Iranian Revolution he filmed and interviewed Ayatollah Khomeini, and was held by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards whilst filming the Iran/Iraq war.
Covering the Falklands War in 1982 he and his crew were kidnapped by Argentinian naval intelligence in Buenos Aires. After release they were invited to dinner with President Galtieri and obtained the only interview he gave to the British media.
He made films about two nuclear accidents - Five-Mile Island in the United States, and Chernobyl in the USSR.
Entering the Lenin shipyards in Gdansk, Poland, he secretly filmed the entire Solidarity strike, which many believe heralded the end of the Cold War.
In 1984, with Albert Finney in the lead role, Channel 4 broadcast a television production of “The Biko Inquest”, a dramatisation of the inquest in Pretoria into the murder of Steve Biko which Norman had co-written some years earlier and produced on the stage in various countries. It was also staged in the UK by the Royal Shakespeare Company with Ian McKellen as Biko’s lawyer.
In 1984 he decided to become a freelance producer/director. Working for ITV, CBS and Channel 4 he made films about the “Gaul”, Afghanistan (“Kabul Autumn” - won an RTS Award), and the “The Sinking of the Scharnhorst” for the BBC.
In 1988 the US Navy missile destroyer, the USS Vincennes, shot down an Iranair passenger jet over the Persian Gulf, killing more innocent passengers than were lost when Pan Am 103 was brought down over Lockerbie some months later. Convinced that Libya was not involved in the Scottish disaster, in 2000 he made a BBC/US co-production film about the Vincennes incident, “The Other Lockerbie”.
When he found out about the stomach cancer that killed him he was funny, irreverent and always cheerful.
His wife June pre-deceased him, dying of motor neurone disease in March 2004, and the bulk of his estate he bequeathed to fight this rare condition.
No one can follow that. RIP my friend.

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