Tag Archives: Radio 4

➤ Smash Hits and other mould-breakers of the 80s

Neil Tennant ,Smash Hits, Radio 4, documentary

1983: Neil Tennant as Smash Hits writer. (Photo by Virginia Turbett)

❚ ANOTHER NICELY PACKAGED Radio 4 documentary today celebrated the crucial years 1982–85 which Neil Tennant describes as “the golden age of 80s pop”. They luckily coincided with his tenure as a writer on Smash Hits magazine before stepping into the pop charts himself as half of the Pet Shop Boys. Obviously in a prog titled Neil Tennant’s Smash Hits Christmas Tennant and his cronies were full of back-slapping at the moulds they broke with the mass-selling fan mag, driven initially by two selling points – song lyrics and pull-out pinup posters.

Smash Hits, Radio 4, documentary,Pete Murphy

1982: Peter Murphy of Bauhaus (you really don’t want to see its Christmas cover star)

Launched in Nov 1978 as a monthly title, Smash Hits trailed “The words to 18 top singles” as its key feature. The mag was the invention of former NME editor (and later founder of The Face) Nick Logan who conceived it on the kitchen table and initially toyed with the title Disco Fever, presumably in homage to that year’s horror movie Saturday Night Fever. He chose the Belgian new-wave joker Plastic Bertrand for the cover of a pilot issue in the post-punk vacuum when any new direction seemed significant, but actually launched with Blondie. Smash Hits soon went fortnightly, ran for 28 years, and died with Celebrity Big Brother’s Preston gracing its last cover in 2006. In his Guardian obituary for the mag, Alexis Petridis wrote: “The period between the rise of Adam and the Ants and the collapse of Stock, Aitken and Waterman’s ‘Hit Factory’ empire may prove to be the last truly great pop era, in that it produced not just great pop music, but great pop stars.”

Tennant ignores the fact that 80s classic pop began with the music of Spandau Ballet and Adam Ant a couple of years earlier than his joining the mag. Also unmentioned in today’s doc was that the mould-breaking writing of this era was actually led by The Face and the subcultural flagship magazine New Sounds New Styles, which gently parodied the posers of the New Romantics movement and closed in 1982 through lack of promotion by its publisher Emap, who also happened to publish Smash Hits. The fresh rebel writers of NSNS had adopted a tongue-in-cheek tone which kickstarted a shift of power away from stars and their publicists into the hands of writers themselves. Once the 80s had revived the long-dead credibility of pop music – dubbed “pure pop” in vigorous public debates – Smash Hits took its cue by adopting a knowing approach to pop journalism and providing a cheeky foil to Britain’s four seriously po-faced weekly rock-music newspapers. We cannot underestimate how its humour helped sophisticate the Smash Hits reader, pragmatically described by Tennant as “the 12-year-old girl in Grantham”. Which was a neat way of deflating his own pomposity.

Spookiest quote today came from Toyah, after remarking that the pop scene has lost the airy optimism of the 80s: “We now view fame as something dark and faintly abusive.” Oo-er.

Neil Tennant ,Smash Hits, Radio 4, documentary, Pet Shop Boys

April 1985: Tennant as cover star and Pet Shop Boy with Chris Lowe


➤ When crisis looms, send for the Bard and a little touch of Harry in the night

London Olympics, security,

Rocket systems: six London sites have been strategically selected as the best spots from which to protect the Olympics

❚ TWO WEEKS BEFORE the Olympic Games begin, London’s threat level on the government’s official five-point security scale is set at the mid-point, “Substantial” – which means that a terrorist attack is a strong possibility. Hence this week’s anger with G4S, the private company tasked with providing 10,000 security personnel, for failing to fulfil its contract. With the Olympic Village in Stratford opening in east London on Monday and Heathrow Airport saying this will be its busiest day for the arrival of athletes, 3,500 troops are being drafted in – some fresh from action in Afghanistan – to plug gaps in staff ranks and meet the shortfall to protect 100 Olympics venues.

London Olympics, security,

Helicopter base: HMS Ocean negotiates the Thames Barrier en route to Greenwich

The Ministry of Defence has already mobilised the biggest peacetime security plan ever in the UK, designed to meet worst-case scenarios. The policing operation is costing up to £600m, and plans to secure venues and other Olympic sites a further £553m. The military deployment has now been raised to 17,000, the majority performing security roles on venue gates. Others have specialist roles as bomb disposal squads and special forces and manning the controversial London missile sites.

On Friday the Royal Navy’s largest aircraft carrier HMS Ocean passed through the Thames barrier to anchor at Greenwich and provide a base for helicopter operations and Royal Marine snipers (while also being open for public visits). Typhoon fast jets will also be on alert at RAF Northolt, ready to use “lethal force” at short notice if the Olympics are threatened. Airspace restrictions around London and south-east England came into effect yesterday.

London Olympics, security,

No, no, no: Residents protest against government plans to station missiles on the roof of the Fred Wigg Tower in Leytonstone. (Photograph by Andrew Cowie)

Last week the Army began installing surface-to-air missiles on the roof of a 17-storey tower block in east London. It is one of six sites around the capital from which Rapier and other high-velocity systems can be launched. Residents of Fred Wigg Tower in Leytonstone had taken legal action to stop the security measure, saying it would make them a terrorism target. However on Tuesday the High Court ruled in favour of the Ministry of Defence, agreeing that a tower block was a suitable site for the missiles.

Londoners have lived with continual acts of terrorism since the first explosions set by the Irish Republican Army on March 8, 1973. Nevertheless, our capital remains possibly the world’s most vibrant city and probably the world’s most open city. With more than 300 languages spoken by its 7.8m population – the French community alone makes us France’s fifth city by population! – London presents a snapshot of Britain’s rich cultural masala. This place can certainly claim to be, in the words of our former mayor Ken Livingstone, “the world in one city”.

Nobody in their right mind grows blasé to the terrorist threat, but life goes on, and today, Radio 4’s topical drama strand, From Fact to Fiction, responded nimbly to the comedic and tragedic potential of the fortified tower-block. With 38 of literature’s greatest plays to plunder, you can’t go wrong with a Shakespeare pastiche in times of national drama. Two poets, W N Herbert and Clare Pollard, have written a piece of cod Bard titled Surface To Air. It imagines the residents of a fictional tower block with a missile on the roof, while a soldier sent to man the weapon considers his role defending all the Olympics stand for.

Laurence Olivier,HenryV

Olivier rallies the troops in his 1944 film of Henry V: today Radio 4 conjures up a pastiche drama inspired by the spirit of Shakespeare

➢ Surface to Air – the 15-minute drama is available for catch-up on BBC iPlayer for one week

❏ Sam Troughton plays the soldier, “the universal Atkins”, posted to Gaunt Tower in east London, his posting in Helmand fresh in the memory. His words and his name of Harry all derive from familiar Shakespearean lines pregnant with history. As he encounters a variegated cast of your actual East Enders, he rues this “nest of ingrates” while wrestling with his conscience:

Shall England be one stream of petty tears
As though its coastline were its cradle,
And all the world its old rejected toys,
And it a royal baby beating with its tiny fists
Against the frame of heaven?

He is a Bardish marriage of Ariel with Chorus, Henry of Agincourt with Old Gaunt, sent forth to deliver that little touch of magic:

I think I am a prophet new inspired
So will I pluck this spectre from the sky,
Dash it against the soil of jubilee,
Defend these others, Eden, hemi demi-paradise:
That park designed for sports perfections
Against defection and the hand of war.
That happy team of mates, that little state,
That precious stadium set in Stratford’s ring
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house
Against the envy of less happy lands,
That blessèd plot, that earth, that realm, IS England.


➤ Nick Davies declared “the greatest living British journalist” as Carl Bernstein declares “Murdoch’s Watergate?”

 Nick Davies, News of The World, phone-hacking, journalism

The Guardian’s Nick Davies: giving evidence to the Commons media committee in 2009. Photograph by PA

◼ BRITAIN’S BIGGEST-SELLING NEWSPAPER, the tabloid News of the World, closes tomorrow, a victim of its own phone-hacking scandal. First published 168 years ago, this hugely powerful title became the most toxic media brand in the land, all within the week. And much of the cause was down to the work of one investigative journalist, Nick Davies of The Guardian newspaper.

“ I have no doubt at all that Nick Davies is the greatest living British journalist ” — Peter Oborne, chief political commentator on the rival newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, speaking on Radio 4 tonight

➢ Listen to Jonathan Maitland’s profile of Nick Davies,
on BBC Radio 4 (July 9 and on iPlayer)

➢ “Cameron is in the sewer” — Peter Oborne at his
Daily Telegraph blog

Nick Davies is considered one of Britain’s leading investigative journalists. 
He has broken numerous stories, mostly for The Guardian. His scoops include the story about the nurse turned serial child murderer, Beverley Allitt, and the recent WikiLeaks revelations in classified US military and diplomatic documents. He it was who tracked down Julian Assange and persuaded him not to post his latest secrets on the WikiLeaks website but to hand them over to The Guardian. 
Among his published books, Flat Earth News accuses British newspapers of what he calls “churnalism”, churning out stories based entirely on PR, press releases or wire copy, without further fact-checking.

One irony is that in this year’s Society of Editors awards, Davies lost the award for News Reporter of the Year to Mazher Mahmood (the “Fake sheikh”) of the News of the World, whose winning submissions included exposing the Pakistan cricket match-fixing ring, and the claim that Fergie “sells” Andy for £500k. [Update July 10: In the NoW’s final issue, “crimebuster” Mahmood reminds us of the 250 successful prosecutions his investigations have achieved over 20 years, from paedophiles, arms dealers, drug peddlers and people traffickers to bent doctors and lawyers.]

Among the awards listed in his Debrett’s People of Today profile, Davies is cited as Feature Writer of the Year 1997, Journalist of the Year 1998, Reporter of the Year 1999, Martha Gellhorn Award 1999, European Journalism Prize 2003.

The Milly Dowler story changed the politics of the whole saga and made it impossible for anybody to defend the News of the World and that included the prime minister and the Tory leadership… And so they’ve switched sides, specifically on the question of whether there should be a public inquiry.
➢ Davies on pursuing the phone hacking investigation — on video at Guardian online

Davies decided to become an investigative journalist after seeing the brilliant film All the President’s Men, about the US journalists who cracked the Watergate conspiracy that brought down president Richard Nixon in 1973 and helped indict and jail numerous Nixon aides…

All the President’s Men, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford

All the President’s Men, 1976: Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford playing the Woodstein investigative team in a film studio

➢ VIEW the terrific trailer for All the President’s Men

◼ OF ALL THE MOVIES ABOUT JOURNALISM the best by far is All the President’s Men. It tells the real-life story of how two young reporters on the Washington Post saw the corrupt American president Richard Nixon out of office. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman play the “Woodstein” team of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, both hitting 30 when they pulled off their scoops about conspiracy in the White House. The Oscar-winning film is a gripping thriller that also gives the most authentic view of newspaper life yet, shot in an exact replica of the colour-coded Washington Post newsroom, built by knocking together two Warner soundstages in Burbank and ensuring all the coffee-cups and paperwork came from the real office 2,000 miles away.

Jason Robards won the 1976 Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for his charismatic depiction of the executive editor Ben Bradlee. “WOODSTEIN!!! Get in here!” At the press screening this writer attended, he raised repeated cheers for his oh-so-true-to-life rigour as he harried the young reporters again and again when they failed to convince him they had the scoop of the century. Our hearts sank, along with theirs, as Bradlee took his pen to their report and deleted line after line after line. We’ve all had bosses like him. “Get some harder information.” – “We haven’t had any luck yet.” – “Get some.” This film excels for showing how good newspapers work.

➢ Read: Murdoch’s Watergate? by Carl Bernstein FOR Newsweek

Watergate ,Bob Woodward , Carl Bernstein ,Washington Post

The real thing: Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in the Washington Post offices at the height of the Watergate investigation. (Associated Press)

◼ TODAY ON NEWSWEEK’S WEBSITE Pulitzer Prize-winning Carl Bernstein draws a comparison between Nixon’s downfall and the anything-goes approach of News of the World owner Rupert Murdoch and how it threatens to undermine the influence he so covets…

The hacking scandal currently shaking Rupert Murdoch’s empire will surprise only those who have wilfully blinded themselves to that empire’s pernicious influence on journalism in the English-speaking world. Too many of us have winked in amusement at the salaciousness without considering the larger corruption of journalism and politics promulgated by Murdoch Culture on both sides of the Atlantic.

The facts of the case are astonishing in their scope. Thousands of private phone messages hacked, presumably by people affiliated with the Murdoch-owned News of the World newspaper, with the violated parties ranging from Prince William and actor Hugh Grant to murder victims and families of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

➢ How The Guardian broke the story — Murdoch papers paid £1m to gag phone-hacking victims

➢ Yesterday’s Media Talk podcast: Alan Rusbridger, Nick Davies, Roy Greenslade and Janine Gibson

➢ A message for the times we live in: How good journalism worked at the Washington Post

News Of The World, final issue,first issue,

48-page freebie: today’s News Of The World includes a souvenir of famous pages since the paper was first published on Sunday October 1, 1843, including “Crippen’s life at sea” as the killer doctor fled abroad in 1910 and “Prince Harry’s racist video shame” in 2009. During the 1950s — under its slogan Henry James’s phrase “All human life is there” — sales averaged 8.4m copies weekly. Its latest average sale was 2.6m copies

➢ News of the World doubles print run to 5m for final issue and all proceeds go to charity — Sunday update: local shop sent 50 copies instead of its usual six. The website notw.co.uk will be free to the public all July 10


➤ Irrational, Professor Cox! Discussing science in a tent at Glastonbury?

Robin Ince, Brian Cox, Radio 4,Infinite Monkey Cage ,science

Two of the BBC monkeys: Robin Ince and co-host Brian Cox

❚ WHETHER OR NOT YOU BELIEVE in miracles, there was something pretty phenomenal about a BBC science show coming from the cabaret marquee over a ley-line at the Glastonbury rock festival, which some people believe is where the make-believe King Arthur’s sword was forged. Inevitably the show had to be fronted by that rock-star among physics professors, Brian Cox, he of Dare/D:Ream fame and today just about the biggest boffin in the telly cosmos. Yet today’s Radio 4 show, The Infinite Monkey Cage, billed as a comedy series, scored a spectacular first in the eternal struggle to explain science to people who think crystals run the world. Confronted with the potty view that scientists are no different from priests for “believing in” their theories, Cox & Co drew a very clear line between mysticism and the rational scientific method in, oh, two minutes flat.

A couple of hippy-dippy guests played the village idiots. Yes, Billy Bragg, we mean you. He’d heard that scientists believe the universe is 95% made of a “hidden mass” called dark matter which we can’t see or touch: “So you believe that, do you?”

Billy Bragg, Glastonbury,

Billy Bragg signing off at Glastonbury: “The space race is over” but how can he be sure?

Step up Professor Brian: “This was an observational statement. It was observed to be true. You have to believe the evidence because that’s what we measured.”

Mystic Bragg:
“But you have to have faith in the fact that the dark stuff is there?”

Prof Brian, offering himself up to the Wicker Man:
“Science is a system of thought that has no underlying prejudice. Science as a process is the absence of a belief system.”

Bragg: “There are areas of science where you don’t know exactly what’s happening so you have a series of beliefs to explain it … ”

Brian: “Theories.” [Exactly, silly Billy. Not beliefs.]

Bragg: “… That’s what religious people do. They explain the world by the existence of a supreme being. Isn’t there a similarity there?”

Prof Tony Ryan of Sheffield: “No! Scientists either search for a better theory (which is happening) or we search for the hidden mass (which is also happening). It’s not a belief system. It’s a belief in looking for evidence.”

[Cheers from the overwhelmingly rational Glastonbury audience. QED.]

➢ Listen to The Infinite Monkey Cage from Glastonbury
on the iPlayer