television

No News Today!

Many of you who regularly read this blog may know that for most of my working life I've been involved in the media business.

And for most of my adult life, news has been something I've been involved in - listened to, watched, written, read out for listeners and viewers, reported on in studios and on locations, investigated news stories and chatted to people making the news for whatever reason. I'm one of those people who when I awake in the morning I automatically reach for the radio and switch on, to catch the latest headlines and commentary.

The news recently, of course, has been dominated by the coronavirus - news of numbers, deaths, hospitalisations, vaccines - it's been relentless. And I have to say, even though I am by my own admission a bit of a 'news junkie', it has all become a bit overwhelming.

Prior to this pandemic, of course, here in the UK our news programmes and headlines were dominated for many many many months by ... yes ... BREXIT!  THAT also felt like a never-ending story! 

With our current rolling TV news channels, it does sometimes feel like it's just a constant barrage of relentless facts, figures, analysis, comment. Often things appear to happen really really slowly, so hour on hour it's the same thing over and over and over again, with obvious clutching at proverbial straws to try to 'freshen up' the newslines being delivered.

I know that for a lot of people this past year, especially, has been quite depressing. A lot have simply stopped watching and listening to the news and have just 'switched off'. I've read comments from so many people who've said that they are just 'fed up' of hearing the same news lines and the same people talking about the same things. And I sort of get it. 

The challenge to current news providers is always to try to keep people engaged, but there is something in the argument that some of the methods of modern news delivery are rather jaded.

You know what I'm talking about. 'Experts' and so-called 'correspondents' unpicking issues endlessly and telling us what they think about it all is one of my personal bug bears, I have to say. Having worked in the news for so long, I'm aware that to be an 'expert' in any particular area is something that often comes with much time and great effort. And I'm not sure these days that everyone who stands outside an important building spouting what they've probably just actually been told to say by their colleagues back in the newsroom are real 'experts'. It sort of diminishes the trust in 'specialists'.

One big challenge is how also to keep people engaged with the news without just delivering scary statistics and frighteners? That doesn't always work either. One way of making news come to 'life' is to turn to 'examples' of people who are living through it. But even that can get a bit jaded because often the stories are framed in the same way - sad looking person filmed doing something that doesn't really relate to what the story is about (making a cup of tea/pottering in the garden, walking in a field), a rather sad little interview with a serious looking reporter, followed by the sad person doing something also unrelated to the story (leafing through a book/looking pensively out of a window).

Part of the problem is that the person's story is always framed through the news story and by the 'line' that the reporter is aiming for, and in the time allotted to them ... usually a TV news story is all done and dusted and shoe-horned into under two minutes. Radio can allow more TIME to really explore a subject, but the truth is much of the news delivery these days feels rather rushed. SO many stories, all covered rather superficially and only really for the purpose of illustrating the top 'news line'.

The other thing that people have often asked me is why the 'news' is so often 'bad.' I've tried to explain in the past that actually it's because 'bad' stuff happens really quite infrequently, so that's why it's unusual and makes the news. But these days I'm not so convinced by my argument. Years ago there was a bit of a debate as to why 'good' news couldn't be more prominent in a bulletin. Especially on a 'slow' news day, why can't our news be full of 'good' news? People doing great things, people making a difference in their communities. And not just covered as your typical 'And Finally ...' story.

On BBC local radio at the moment there IS a move towards more 'good' community news stories. Some bulletins are featuring 'Make a Difference' stories which celebrates the brilliant people in our communities. It was part of what I did towards the end of my time at BBC Radio Jersey and it's a great development.

But sadly, I think I may have actually to create my own 'good news channel' if I want to hear more positive news stories. The mainstream news media DOES have challenges ahead, although how one fixes a broken model is another issue and one that will take more than my ramblings to sort out.

But why am I talking about this today?

Well it's because on this day - April 18th - in 1930, the BBC did have a very slow news day and something rather unusual happened.

It was before television, so this was radio news. 

BBC microphoneIt was 8.45pm and all over Great Britain people tuned it for the radio news but instead heard the announcer simply say these words...

“Good evening. Today is Good Friday. There is no news.” 

That was it. Then the rest of the 15-minute news segment was filled with some piano music.

Of course this was before the days of world media. And the BBC wasn't endowed with all the reporters and 'correspondents' we have today. In fact the BBC didn't create it's own news operation until 1934. It's really interesting to read about the early days of the BBC,  when their news gathering was rather constrained by the demands of the newspaper publishers who feared that broadcast bulletins would damage sales.

In those early days of the BBC - after the first news bulletin in November 1922 - they weren't allow to broadcast news before 7pm and the British government didn't allow the BBC to have its own reporters. They relied on stories and copy from the wire services like Reuters, the Press Association, the Central News, and the Exchange Telegraph Company, whose ‘tape’ machines spewed out their stories into the BBC News Room. The BBC news teams then chose what stories to run and by all accounts, they were determined only to choose the best stories. 

Obviously on April 18th 1930 there weren't enough good stories to make a bulletin!

I didn't grow up on this story ... it's something I learned about down the line. And I'm not sure that everyone who works for the BBC knows about it.  Some are aware and think it's just rather quirky. Click here to listen to a more modern take on what happened that day.

Even on a 'slow' news day, this would never happen today. Imagine if we switched on the BBC news channels to hear 'Good morning, everyone, today there is no real news for us to talk about, at least not sensibly. So we're just going to enjoy a film or some cartoons, or listen to some great music'.

Now ... THAT would be an interesting News Day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


A musical debut

There are some things in life that you think have been around forever. 

Think about things you enjoy -  maybe a cup of tea, or coffee? What about cake? Sandwiches? Spaghetti Bolognaise?

Well, now I'm just talking about things I like ... but you know what I mean?

Recently we've been thinking about Easter and that's been around forever hasn't it? Well no ... there was the first Easter, that day when Jesus was resurrected. That amazing, outstanding day in history.

There was the first time someone picked tea and made a cuppa or the first time someone put two pieces of bread together with something in between to create a sandwich. Most things had a 'first time'. Right?

Ever heard of ABBA?

If not - where have you been?

Growing up, ABBA was one of the soundtracks of my teenage and early adult life. They were massive. I listened to them on the radio, bought the albums, danced the night away to the sounds of AgnethaBjörnBenny and Anni-Frid.

They still are massive! Their award winning music has stood the test of time down the years. They are legends in their own lifetimes across the world and if you've watched the movie or seen the stage show 'Mamma Mia' you'll know the tunes. ABBA just keep going on and on. They've brought so much joy to so many people. How great is that?

But, believe it or not, there was a time when the world was unaware of ABBA.

Abba waterlooAnd, in fact, it was on this day, April 6th, in 1974 that they first appeared on our radar.

If you're not aware, they won the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, with their song 'Waterloo'. A weirdly wonderful song that just made us all laugh and want to get up and dance and sing along.

When millions tuned in to watch the performance on TV that night, we had no way of knowng that very soon ABBA would become part of all our lives!  Who could have imagined that when the obscure and colourful band from Sweden stepped onto that stage that there would soon be a time when we could hardly think of life without their music?

So - to celebrate - let's wind the clock back to that night in Brighton on the south coast of England, and the beginning of history...

Enjoy!

 


Happy Talk

I was listening to the radio the other day and heard a song which brought back so many memories.

First, this version of 'Happy Talk' was released in 1982, the year I left university and started work.  It was a time of great excitement and promise - my whole life lay ahead of me.

Second, it was sung by a chap called 'Captain Sensible' - it was an ironic pseudonym because he was far from 'sensible'. He was not just quirky but rebellious. He had set up the punk band 'The Damned' which had been one of the soundtracks to my late teens.  

South PacificAnd finally, this quirky song wasn't an original. It was actually a tune and a song from a brilliant musical, a stage show called 'South Pacific' which premiered on Broadway in New York 1949. In 1958 it was made into a movie of the same name and by the 1970s I was listening to the soundtrack and learning all the songs.

Interesting point here - we didn't have a 'South Pacific' LP or vinyl record. We actually had the movie sound track on a reel-to-reel audio tape recording which we played on a tape machine. So I listened to 'South Pacific' accompanied by the whirring sound of the tape running through the machine. Classic.

And I hadn't even seen the film! It was years later, maybe a few years after Captain Sensible sang that song that I would have hired a VHS from 'Blockbuster' ... the video hire shop. It's the way we got to see loads of movies at home at the time. 

 'Happy Talk' was always one of my favourites songs from the show - it's sung by the character Bloody Mary and that was the nearest I got to using a swearword when I was a child! I knew it off by heart, so when Captain Sensible appeared on BBC Top of the Pops - I could sing along.

And the words I loved the most?

You gotta have a dream, if you don't have a dream, How you gonna have a dream come true?
If you don't talk happy and you never have a dream, Then you'll never have a dream come true.

It's nearly 40 years since Captain Sensible released 'Happy Talk' and around 50 since I first learned those words. It still rings true for me. 

Be Happy. Talk Happy. Have a Dream! Or maybe ... more than one!

As I said before, in 1982 I was standing of the threshold of life and was at the start of my career as a journalist with all the excitement of what could be. Some of my dreams - personal and professional - have come to pass, others not. 

These days I'm nearer the end of my full-time working life but I'm still excited about what might be. Later this week I will start a new adventure, as I leave working for the BBC and go back to being a freelance writer/broadcaster/PR + communications 'guru'. More of that later !

And although it's a bit scary ... I'm excited.

And I have this song going round in my head. 

Which for me is a GOOD thing! It makes me smile!

 

 


A Poem to Inspire

Today is World Poetry Day.

Says it all really. It's a day to celebrate poetry, read poetry, write poetry and basically ... just think poetry!

I love poetry and I do even write a bit, from time time. But today I'm not going to impose one of my rather poor creations on you. Instead I'm going to share a poem with you that I had to learn many many years ago. So it's one of those that I can (sort of) still recite. If I think about it a lot.

I learnt the poem for an Eisteddfod, a creative arts festival. I stood on a stage and performed this. 

I didn't win the contest, but for someone who wasn't keen on performing in front of others, at the time it was a great, if terrifying, experience because I was forced out of my comfort zone. I was much more comfortable being part of a team, so this was different and unsettling, but character building.

Some of you reading this might be surprised to hear I wasn't that keen on putting myself forward in public when I was a child and a teenager, because for years I worked as a TV and radio presenter. And I've done a whole load of presenting not just in the media but also on stage in some really really big auditoriums - including  Wembley Arena and the Royal Albert Hall in London.

I can't say I haven't had nerves and anxiety over those appearances and the media presenting - sometimes that anxiety has been debilitating -  but at least I've done it. And it was experiences like the Eisteddfod poetry moment that helped me at the start of the long journey towards a future career which required me to put myself forward and not hide behind others.

And what was the poem I recited?

If by Rudyard Kipling poemWell, it's this.

IF, by Rudyard Kipling.

I think I mentioned a couple of days ago that he's one of my favourite authors and poets, and this is where it all began.

It was a strangely prophetic performance because although the poem was written as a general advice for life, for me it has become personal. 

In the media, it's easy to get above yourself and think you are better than others, but also you can be intimidated by others, people who hold high office, those who believe themselves superior to you, people (even your own colleagues) who act like they are the only individuals in the universe. This poem speaks into that.

It also tells us a little about how to deal with the sort of negativity that can come one's way. These days, especially, people in the media (and anyone actually if you give yourself a bit of a profile) can come in for all kinds of abuse on social media, and sometimes when things are going badly, you just need to keep believing in yourself. And then, when you need to change course, to follow the dreams you once had, these words can inspire.

This poem has so many nuances. It's one I've gone back to time and time again over the years. And it doesn't matter that it says 'Son' and 'man' at the end ... it works for us girls as well. I find it empowering!

And on this World Poetry Day I will simply say ... enjoy and be inspired!

IF

by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
 
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
 
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
 
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
 

 


A Favourite Song

Do you know what a 'crossover' song is?

No?

Well - it's a song from one genre which makes it into the popular charts.

In the USA there are so many different music genres, all popular in their own right - I'm thinking blues, and country and western, jazz, bluegrass, R+B, soul, funk, techno ... etc etc ... you get my drift I'm sure! 

And then there's the Gospel and the Contemporary Christian Music scenes - all incredibly popular with very successful artists, many of whom may never make it into the 'Pop' download lists but who have brilliant careers, millions of followers and fans, downloads and sales. Radio stations galore playing all types of music.

In the UK it's a bit different, with a much more limited 'pop' scene and fewer opportunities for radio play on our most popular stations, but there's a growing number of online stations playing different kinds of music.

But back to my first thought. Every now and then there's an artist who successfully manages to 'cross over' ... someone from one genre who 'makes it' in the pop world.

One of those brilliant singers is Carrie Underwood, born on this day in 1983.

I remember seeing her on TV, winning the fourth series of 'American Idol' in 2005. Apparently during the programme run, 500 million votes were cast in her favour and for the final - 37million votes were recorded. That gives you an indication of the numbers of people who enjoy music ... just in the USA ... and why it's possible to be a star there whatever your style of music.

Carrie was just 21 when she appeared on American Idol and she was described as a 'farm girl' from Oklahoma. Musically she came from a 'country' background and although not everyone who wins these TV talent shows goes on to great success, in the case of Carrie Underwood, she's gone on to become a seven-time Grammy-winning country megastar. 

Carrie apparently takes her musical inspiration from many different types of music, but she's also released songs and albums with Christian themes.

So today I'm just going to share with you one of the Carrie Underwood's songs that I love - 'Jesus, Take the Wheel'. When I used to present on BBC Radio Jersey it sometimes popped up in my playlist especially on a Sunday morning, but also at other times of the day.

Now if you've been reading this blog for a bit, you'll know that I'm a Christian, and I love especially the first few lines of the chorus of this song ...

"Jesus, take the wheel
Take it from my hands
'Cause I can't do this on my own
I'm letting go..."

For me, that's a bit of a prayer.

Enjoy!

 

 

 


Keep Looking Up

Wisdom comes in all shapes and sizes, but not always from holy scriptures or experts who have studied to PHD level or who have all the experience in the world.

So how about this for a thought for today?

 

Snoopy keep looking upProfound eh?

And that's from a dog!

The dog is Snoopy, and if you're not already aware of it, he's the companion of a certain Charlie Brown,  a little boy who is 'loveable loser'  - he's meek, not that self-confident and is of a nervous disposition. He's pessimistic quite a lot, but also sometimes optimistic. He worries about the day and all the things around him, and other times hopes for the best and tries desperately to make good things happen.

Charlie Brown is puzzled by Snoopy and some of the slightly weird things he gets up to, but he looks after him, and does his best to provide his dog with a happy life. And in response, Snoopy is always there for Charlie when he gets let down or needs support.

I've always felt a bit of an affinity with Charlie Brown, even though he isn't a real person, but a cartoon.

He's the central character of the Peanuts comic strip created by Charles M Schulz, who died on this day - February 12th - in the year 2000.

'Peanuts' had first appeared in print in USA newspapers on October 2, 1950. It shows the world of a group of young children. Adults are barely heard, but woven into the comic strips are some very adult themes like philosophy, psychology and sociology. There's some deep stuff in Peanuts and it's characters, even things that could be interpreted as 'spiritual' if not 'religious'.

Take this Snoopy quote for example - 'Keep Looking Up... that's the Secret of Life'.

Now, as a person of faith, what I get from those words is that I need to keep looking up to the Creator, for inspiration and motivation.

In the Old Testament in the Bible, in Psalm 121, we are encouraged to look up to God for all our needs. I particularly love the translation of this psalm from The Message translation:

I look up to the mountains;
    does my strength come from mountains?
No, my strength comes from God, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains

He won’t let you stumble, your Guardian God won’t fall asleep.
Not on your life! Israel’s Guardian will never doze or sleep

God’s your Guardian, right at your side to protect you—
Shielding you from sunstroke, sheltering you from moonstroke

God guards you from every evil, he guards your very life.
He guards you when you leave and when you return, he guards you now, he guards you always

Don't you love that? We're not on our own. We just need to look up, not to physical mountains, but even higher, to put our trust in God.

But the Snoopy quote an also be interpreted in a different way. If we are constantly looking DOWN, physically, we will never see the potential of what isn't yet here, what might be open to us. We will always be just concentrating on where we are, now, and not looking forward.

See what I mean? There are so many different ways of looking at life through the eyes of Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the gang. Maybe you may interpret this Snoopy Saying in a way that rings true with you and your life?

The final Peanuts comic strip was published on the day after Charles M Schulz died. On February 13th 2000 the 17,897th-and-last instalment appeared in newspapers around the world.

But that wasn't the end of Charlie Brown and his world. The comic strips live on, there are TV cartoons and movies, and images of him and his quotes and those of Snoopy and the other Peanuts kids all over the internet. They are icons of our time!

Hope charlie brown

We all need friends and we all need hope if we are to live life well. 

Charlie Brown had Snoopy ... who do you have?

And are you, like Charlie, always seeking the hopeful path? 

Are you looking UP or always looking down?

Maybe worth thinking about?


 


A Long Walk

Memory is a strange thing. 

It is rather choosy in what it chooses to remember.

I know that, as a person who was born at the very end of the 1950s, SO many things have happened in my lifetime but most of my memories aren't of the BIG events, but lots of little, personal things. Making a snowman with my brothers when I was probably about 5, hanging upside down on the 'monkey bars' at school at about the same age. My first memories of moving to Africa with my family ... more on that another time.

As a person who has worked most of my life in the news business, I strangely find that I don't remember even many of the big life-changing events. Although I DO know where I was on September 11th 2001, when the planes hit the World Trade Centre in New York.

And I remember the events of February 11th 1990 because I clearly recall watching them on the television.

It was the day the world watched Nelson Mandela walk free from prison on Robben Island, in Table Bay off the coast of Cape Town in South Africa, after 27 years in captivity.

The crowds were incredible and then we saw him, holding hands with his then wife Winnie, walking through the crowds. Walking into Freedom.

It was incredible. It really felt like I was watching history in the making.

For my whole life I was aware of South Africa - I had relatives living there and had visited my brother and seen apartheid in action, even the reaction of some black people against members of their own community during these very turbulent times as they worked their way towards independence. I had witnessed terrible scenes on a television screen, an horrific 'necklace killing' which was shown on TV. If you don't know what this is, please click on the link... I can't bear to repeat it here. I still have the images in my mind.

One of the iconic songs of the era, 'Free Nelson Mandela', was a cry for freedom not just for the man, but also for the black population, the nation of South Africa. With the real threat of a racial civil war and pressure at home and internationally, including economic and sporting boycotts, eventually the government of President F. W. de Klerk saw what needed to be done.

And here Mandela was ... walking free. The man who had been imprisoned for sedition and conspiring to overthrow the state of South Africa was a free man. At last!

It was incredible.

But what came next was even more astounding.

It would have been easy for Mr Mandela to insist on power for the black population, immediately, and to rouse them to action.

But instead, he worked with President de Klerk to negotiate an end to apartheid, that system of institutionalised racial segregation that had been formalised in 1948. Eventually there was a multiracial general election in 1994 which resulted in victory for Mandela and his party, the ANC - the African National Congress. Nelson Mandela became the first black president of his nation.

After assuming power, and especially after suffering 27 years in incarceration, one might have assumed that Mandela might then have wanted his revenge on the white politicians and civilians who had made life so unbearable for the black and 'coloured' population for so long. But no.

Instead he emphasised reconciliation between the country's racial groups and created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate past human rights abuses. 

It was barely a year after that 1994 multi-racial election, which my own family members were pleased to be part of, that I visited South Africa again. Life in the country seemed familiar and it didn't feel like much had changed really, but there was hope in the air.

And although it is still a troubled country, with much poverty and even inequality of all kinds, today I remember the man who guided his country through such a momentous era, which could have turned out so differently. Long walk to freedom

In his autobiography 'Long Walk to Freedom' (Little Brown & Co 1994) Nelson Mandela shared not just his life's story but also his wisdom.

He wrote ...

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

And he left us with thoughts which can inspire us all ...

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”

 

 


My Tribute

There are times when a song or a piece of music takes you by surprise, or  unexpectedly reminds you of something in your past or takes you back to a moment in time.

That happened to me last weekend. 

On Sunday at lunchtime in the UK the BBC broadcasts its long running and very popular television programme called Songs of Praise, a religious show which features Christian hymns sung in churches of different denominations across the country, and interesting interviews and features about the life of faith of the nation.

Even during the coronavirus pandemic, when they haven't been able to go out and record big congregations singing at the top of their voices, Songs of Praise has kept alive and vibrant. They have recorded soloists, and small groups and choirs singing at safe distance,  and new interviews are interwoven with some of the highlights of congregational singing recorded in recent years, before churches were all locked up to keep us safe.

I've been involved with Songs of Praise for several reasons down the years. I've sung in a few big congregations. As a PR working for different churches and faith charities, I've helped provide guests for the programme. And many years ago, I was actually a guest myself when the programme came to Jersey and I was interviewed for the show. 

In addition to the church based programmes, every year Songs of Praise also hosts 'specials' like 'The Big Sing' and competitions like 'Gospel Choir of the Year' and 'Young Chorister of the Year' which enable the whole nation to enjoy some amazing singers and performances.

This year, for the first time, Songs of Praise is hosting a new contest - 'Gospel Singer of the Year' - and last Sunday (Jan 31) they held the semi-finals. The top three will be in the final today.

But that's not really why I'm writing this.

I'm inspired to share a song with you this Sunday. It was sung last weekend by one of the semi-finalists in the Gospel Singer of the Year programme. And it brought back a particular time in my life and a poignant memory.

In May 1985 my darling Dad died. It was way before his time. He was only 63.

He and mum were living in the UK at the time, ministering in a Salvation Army corps (church) in Kent, and when Dad passed away - or as we say in The Salvation Army ... when he was 'Promoted to Glory' - we held three memorial services. One in the UK church that he was leading at the time of his passing, and then ten days later, the main funeral and an evening celebration service at home here in Jersey, in his 'home' church.

In the celebration service I sang a song for my Dad. How I managed it I'll never know, and I am aware that I missed some of the top notes because of my tears, but I did it for him.

The song meant a lot to me but I have to admit that I haven't listened to it much in the intervening 35 plus years and I certainly haven't sung it in public again. In fact, I don't really sing solos much anymore.

But it was THAT song I heard on the Songs of Praise Gospel Singer of the Year. It was sung beautifully and I was pleased that the performer is in the final. It brought a tear to my eye and caused a lump in my throat, but it's been going through my mind all this week.

So - just for you - I share it with you this Sunday.

The title of the song is 'My Tribute - To God be the Glory' and it was written by the amazing singer/songwriter Andraé Crouch, who also sadly is no longer with us. He mixed his own words to the eternal poetry of hymnwriter Fanny Crosby to create this beautiful song.

'My Tribute' has been sung by many artists down the years, including one of my favourite singers - Sandi Patty. But in the 1980s I also listened a lot to a Christian singer called 'Evie' ... and it's her version of this amazing song that I was inspired by.

It took me a while to find it online, and in the process I discovered that Evie is still performing, including this song, and looking and sounding amazing ... but this is the original recording I fell in love with.

Enjoy and be blessed!

 

 

 


Time to think about Time

For many years my working life was dominated by The Pips!

Any idea what I'm talking about?

Well it's that series of 'pips' ... five short and one long tone ... that are broadcast by many BBC Radio stations at the top of each hour. 

Why am I talking about this today? Well, it was on February 5th 1924 that the BBC Pips ... the Greenwich Time Signal .. was first broadcast.

Bbc-history-task-pips

As a radio presenter, for many years I had to ensure I met the 'Pips' cleanly at the top of the hour. No talking over them, no crashing into them. They were sacrosanct.  It could be a quite a pressure but you got used to it.

Only a few BBC radio stations continue to run the Greenwich Time Signal now to give us the precise start to the hour.

Some might think that's a shame, because those pips were a way we could check that our watches and clocks were spot on. These days digital time pieces are so accurate we perhaps don't need the Greenwich Time Signal to keep us on track of time.

Back in 1924, the idea for the Pips came from the Astronomer Royal of the time, Sir Frank Watson Dyson, and the head of the BBC, John Reith.

I'm not going to to go into the technical details of this because I don't know them and it might be rather boring. If you're so inclined, there are plenty of websites which can give you that information.

But what I've gleaned is that the Pips were originally controlled by two mechanical clocks in the Royal Greenwich Observatory which had electrical contacts attached to their pendula. These sent a signal each second to the BBC, which converted them to generate the distinctive beeps of the pips. By the way, just in case one clock failed, two clocks were always used and years later an electronic clock was deployed.

Until 1972 the pips were of equal length. Confusion reigned. Which was the final pip? How did we know it was actually the top of the hour? That was when the last pip was extended. Five short pips, followed by one long.

In 1990 the BBC started to generate the pips themselves via what I read is an atomic clock. Wow.

The Pips were at one point featured on BBC TV but that was discontinued in the 1960s, yet the Greenwich Time Signal seems to remain synonymous with the nation that is Great Britain. It was the first sound heard in the handover to the London 2012 Olympics during the Beijing 2008 Olympics closing ceremony. To celebrate the 90th birthday of the pips on 5 February 2014, the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 broadcast a sequence that included a re-working of the Happy Birthday melody using the GTS as its base sound.

These days, if you want the reassuring sound of the Greenwich Time Signal, then the best place to go is BBC Radio 4, which uses them at the top of each hour. Sometimes when I can't sleep and I'm listening to the BBC World Service radio I also hear them as well. There are similar time signals used by radio stations in lots of other countries, but I guess the BBC Pips are the most famous.

But what you may not know is that the GTS is available not just on the hour but also on the quarter past, the half past and the quarter to the hour. When you're presenting in a radio studio there's a GTS stream you can fade up on your desk to give you the Pips, and if after the top of the hour you forget to fade that stream down, it'll automatically pop up at those times as well. I have to say, that only happened to me just the once!

The thing about the Greenwich Time Signal, and those Pips, is that they remind us that time is fleeting. Time is passing. Time is short.

Perhaps we don't like being reminded about that. I know I don't. 

But if there's something we need to get done ... maybe we need to be just get on and do it, before we run out of time. And although there may be lots of things that we need to do just because we need to do them, it's also important to use our time wisely.

And on that point ... there are masses of quotes about time on the internet but there's one which I'll leave with you today ...

“Always make time for things that make you feel happy to be alive.”

(Anonymous)

 


The Day the Music Died

I'm always fascinated by how creative people come up with their ideas.

Plots for stories and novels, film scripts, song lyrics.

Although I know that sometimes inspiration appears to come from nowhere, and characters and music just appear in ones head or even dreams, at other times the idea might come from nature, real life characters, and even news stories.

And today I'm thinking about one of the best known rock and roll songs ever recorded ...  American Pie written and recorded by Don McLean. It was inspired by an event which shocked the world on this day in 1959.


I can't remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died

So bye, bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good ole boys were drinking whiskey 'n rye
Singin' this'll be the day that I die
This'll be the day that I die

On February 3rd 1959 some of the biggest stars of the time, performers we now recognise as pioneers of American rock and roll, were killed in a plane crash.

Buddy HollyThe Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens were on a national tour with a host of other musicians - what was dubbed the  Winter Dance Party tour. They had been on the road since January 23rd, travelling from city to city and venue to venue in draughty and unreliable buses. It was all turning a bit disastrous, everyone was exhausted, morale was low and drummer Carl Bunch was hospitalised with frostbite in his toes - caused by the freezing conditions on the bus!

The next stop on the tour was Clear Lake in Iowa and Buddy Holly, who had organised the Dance Party, decided to charter a four seater aeroplane so that after the Clear Lake concert, they could fly to the next venue in Moorhead, Minnesota.

For Holly and two of his friends this would mean they could rest before the next show. But who to take?

Holly had gathered around him a band of fantastic musicians including Carl Bunch on drums, Waylon Jennings on electric bass and Tommy Allsup on guitar.

Jennings was to have a seat in the plane, but he gave up his place to J. P. Richardson (aka the Big Bopper), who had the flu. Allsup flipped a coin for the third seat and he lost to Ritchie Valens.

So it was that Holly, Valens and the Big Bopper were the trio who took their seats on that plane. Shortly after take off, just before 1am on February 3rd, the aircraft crashed into a cornfield.

When the news broke, the nation and certainly the world of entertainment and music went into mourning. Three of the biggest stars and the brightest talent had been lost. Buddy Holly was 22. Valens even younger ... just 17. And although Richardson was one of the older members of the band, he was only aged 28 on that fateful day.

Don McLean has revealed that he first heard about Buddy Holly's death on the morning of February 4th, from the newspaper headlines. The songwriter was then a 13-year-old and he was folding the papers ready for his newspaper route. Hence the line "February made me shiver/with every paper I'd deliver..."

Years ago, to mark a big birthday, I was treated to a night out at the theatre in Pretoria in South Africa with my brother and sister-in-law and enjoyed the musical 'Buddy', based on Holly's life and untimely death. The musical is around 30 years old, but it was a couple of decades before its creation, in autumn 1971, and 12 years after the fateful crash, that Don McLean released his iconic album 'American Pie' from which comes the single of the same name. 

On January 15th 1972 it reached number one in the US Billboard charts and it stayed there for four weeks. The song also topped the charts in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In the UK, the single reached number 2, where it stayed for 3 weeks on its original 1971 release. The song gained more popularity and a new audience when it was re-issued two decades later, in 1991. It was also listed as Number 5 in the Recording Industry Association of America Songs of the Century project and in 2017, the original recording of McLean's 'American Pie' was chosen by the American Library of Congress to be preserved in the National Recording Registry, being cited as "culturally, historically, or artistically significant"

As I said at the start, it's interesting where people get their ideas for genius, but I've always been more than intrigued by this song, not just because it mentions the events of February 3rd 1959, but also because it appears to have hidden references to other events and characters which influenced American culture.

Over the years, experts have endlessly unpicked and prevaricated over 'American Pie' and it's lyrics, trying to unravel it, especially the references which don't appear to relate specifically to that plane crash.

Don McLean consistently kept silent, but eventually, when the original manuscript of the song went up for auction in New York in 2015, he finally revealed the meaning of his lyrics,

He told us that it's a 'morality song' really ... it's not just about the loss suffered on that day, but its key theme is the loss of innocence of the early rock and roll generation which the Feb 3 1959 events epitomise. Apparently, we now know, there are mentions of Elvis Presley ("the king") and Bob Dylan ("the jester"), and McLean also confirmed that the song culminates with a description of the death of Meredith Hunter,  an 18-year-old African American who was killed at the 1969 Altamont Free Concert. That controversial death and subsequent murder trial happened ten years after the plane crash that killed Holly, Valens, and Richardson.  

Today, I remember 'The Day the Music Died', which is how, thanks to McLean's song, Feb 3rd 1959 will forever be remembered. And I think about and give thanks for the many talented people who have entertained us down the years and have left creative legacies in music, prose and poetry.  Some have made a tremendous impact on our lives and on the world. Others not so much, admittedly, but we can't have it all.

Oh and by the way, that 'American Pie' original manuscript sold for $1.2 million! Well-deserved I would say, for a song that pays tribute to those who have gone before and given us so much.