Happy New Year! Well, as happy as it can be in the circumstances. It was a strange and difficult Christmas without a doubt, not the sort any of us wanted, and it’s going to be a hard winter for many, especially now we’re in lockdown again. There’s a big ray of hope with the rollout of the vaccines though, so the future’s looking good, and many thanks to all the health workers who are doing their utmost to dish them out as quickly as possible.
My thoughts also go to everyone in America after the recent terror attack amid the fallout from Trump’s defeat. Biden’s inauguration on January 20th can’t come soon enough. Best wishes from across the pond, stay safe!
Those challenges aside, however, I hope you were able to find some enjoyment and comfort during the festive period, insofar as the rules allowed in your part of the world.
Mum and I are doing fine, I’m pleased to say. We’ve enjoyed lots of nice treats, and have had plenty of fun things to watch and listen to, all of which has been a welcome distraction from the news. I continued to have a few long walks around my local area during December as well, as that was the only way I could get out and about, so it was important to make the most of it. Mum’s had a bit of fresh air too of course, but doesn’t go on the long hikes like I do, and we’ve made sure she stays well away from other people apart from her sister (and even then they keep their distance at the front door, she hasn’t been in the house).
So we did pretty well this Christmas despite the limitations, and here’s my festive post and video to round things up. I’m not going to mention absolutely everything we filled our stomachs with, or every little bit of entertainment we watched or listened to, as this update’s long enough as it is. I’m just going to mention my favourite things, as is the purpose of these posts. Nothing here is sponsored as usual, and any gifts are just from friends, not the people behind the products. So I hope you enjoy!
We were particularly careful to order our Christmas food early this year given the potentially high demand, and we were very impressed that we got pretty much everything we asked for, along with some other things we were given as presents that we hadn’t expected. So we’ve been able to indulge ourselves really nicely, which we feel we’ve earned for getting through 2020.
Of course, many people aren’t so fortunate. Donating to charities like The Trussell Trust and FareShare, among others in London and across the UK, is a great way to support those in need of food, as is shopping for vulnerable people in your area or doing voluntary work. Nobody should be going hungry in this day and age.
Among our groceries from Sainsbury’s we had a lovely turkey and a 3-bird roast, plus all the usual trimmings (pigs in blankets, stuffing balls, roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, etc), along with plenty of mince pies (shortcrust pastry and deep-filled varieties in particular), a couple of Tunis Cakes (which only come out for a brief period before Christmas so we always keep a close eye out for them), and delicious Taste The Difference desserts including their Chocolate Yule Log, Billionaire’s Roulade, New York Cheesecake and even Mince Pie Ice Cream (which was worth a go, it’s quite nice). Plus we got Lindt Advent Calendars and tubs of Celebrations and Cadbury’s Heroes to nibble at, among other little treats.
From Greendale Farm in Devon, meanwhile, we ordered their Medium-Sized Meat Selection Box, containing a Boneless Turkey Breast Joint, a Topside Beef Joint, an Unsmoked Gammon Joint, 2 packs of Pigs in Blankets, 2 packs of Unsmoked Streaky Bacon, and 3 packs of Traditional Old English Breakfast Sausages. It was very good value for £100, and we still haven’t finished it all yet! But what we’ve had so far is really nice, we’d definitely get it again. We also got some lovely mince pies and a delicious assortment of Traybakes (2 each of their Chocolate Brownies, Millionaire’s Shortbread, Caramel Flapjack and Lemon Shortbread).
And on top of all that, my Aunt bought Mum and I a Food & Fizz Gift Box from Marks & Spencer as our main present, containing Clementine & Cranberry Bucks Fizz (which I drank to see in the New Year and it was quite nice), Classic Tea, Apple & Fig Chutney, Berry Medley Jam, Cranberry & Clementine Jaffa Cakes, Scottish Shortbread Squares, a Chocolate Selection Box, a Top Iced Christmas Cake Bar, and a Christmas Pudding. She also bought us a bit of clothing and gave us some money too, which was very kind.
And from my workmates in Devon, who I couldn’t travel to see in person this year, we received a couple of cartons of Quality Street, which was lovely of them.
There are a few bits and pieces to mention on the disability front this month:
- I took part in Accessible Advent on social media, sharing things that would make my life much easier as a disabled person. It was an idea launched by Ginny Butcher, and many others joined in too, so I encourage you to read my post and the other suggestions that people had.
- BBC Click dedicated an episode to assistive technology called A Vision Of The Future, to mark the International Day of People with Disabilities, including a look at the iPhone 12’s LIDAR scanner (although I wouldn’t fancy walking around holding my phone up in front of me all the time), and a feature on gaming accessibility, among other things.
- Rail enthusiast Geoff Marshall posted a video about Accessible Rail Journeys in 2020 on his channel, so it was great to see him exploring that topic.
- A new website called Gene Vision has been launched, providing a comprehensive resource about rare genetic eye disorders. It includes sections on Aniridia For Patients & Professionals, WAGR For Patients & Professionals, and Childhood Nystagmus, among other things.
- There will be a Sight Village Online Information Event on January 19 & 20, showcasing the latest in technology for visually impaired people, with demonstrations and the opportunity to ask questions. It will be streamed live on Youtube, and the sessions won’t be available afterwards, so you’ll have to catch it there and then if you don’t want to miss it. However, you can still see the videos from Day 1 & Day 2 of their last online event in July.
- Eclipse Soundscapes announced that they’ve secured funding from NASA for their Citizen Science Project, which will allow everyone to take part in research into solar eclipses, with particular emphasis on accessibility for blind and visually impaired people.
- Rugby League captain Kevin Sinfield raised over £1 million for MND research by completing 7 marathons in 7 days, and since then the total on his JustGiving page has climbed to over £2.6 million, so well done Kevin!
Audio Described Theatre
During the past month my mother and I enjoyed a few theatrical treats that had audio description available.
A Christmas Carol by The Old Vic was excellent for a start. Their annual adaptations of this story are always a delight, as we already knew from seeing a previous production in person. But here they did a very impressive job of adapting the play for an online audience. There were powerful performances along with beautiful costumes, props, music, dancing, etc as usual, so it was still a full-scale production. But they were also able to work around the social distancing restrictions with clever use of split screen and other simple visual tricks (e.g. using a door frame to hide the fact that they couldn’t really shake hands). And it was all completely live, there was no post-production editing here, so the technical crew deserve at least as much praise as the actors on stage for pulling it off. There were 80 freelancers employed to put the show together, so it was quite a big team.
As with other shows in their In Camera season, it was wonderful that The Old Vic maintained their commitment to accessibility by providing audio description (thanks to Roz Chalmers) and captioning for every single performance. And the play was seen by a lot of people. My mother and I watched the very first of the 16 shows, and we were one of 4,000 households from 80 countries tuning in, so the final total for the run must have been pretty huge! I know they had lots of great audience feedback too, quite rightly.
I also saw a live interview with Andrew Lincoln, the wonderful lead actor playing Scrooge, which took place after one of their performances. He was talking to Dermot O’Leary, and it was a very relaxed, enjoyable and interesting conversation. Plus, as an unexpected bonus, they ended with a song by Rachel Harper, a member of Front Of House staff who’s a very creative performer herself and has appeared on shows like Ellen. Here she sang Santa Baby in the styles of many different artists like Marilyn Monroe, Adele, Judy Garland, Julie Andrews, Dolly Parton, Edith Piaf, Celine Dion, Shakira, Britney Spears & Christina Aguilera, which was quite clever and amusing.
My mother and I also enjoyed Christmas At The (Snow) Globe. This was a special production from Shakespeare’s Globe, featuring Sandi Toksvig and her friends (including a fairy) putting on a Christmas show for a little boy who was sad about the venue being empty this year. It was very sweet and uplifting, with good humour, festive visuals and beautiful music.
And then on TV we saw the Royal Variety Performance with audio description, having recorded it so we could skip through the acts we weren’t interested in as well as the adverts. Jason Manford did a great job as the host, introducing songs from Gary Barlow, Celeste, Melanie C & Frozen The Musical, comedy from Jo Caulfield, magic from Stephen Mulhern, and – by far the best part – a special performance of You’ll Never Walk Alone by Michael Ball, accompanied by a choir of NHS workers on stage, plus audio of Captain Tom Moore with visuals of him on the back screen. And that song has again had resonance in early 2021 due to the sad passing of Gerry Marsden from Gerry & The Pacemakers.
Mischief Movie Nights
Mischief Movie Night In with Mischief Theatre was easily the funniest thing I saw during the festive season, and one of the best things from the entire year. The shows are by the same Mischief Theatre team who make the ‘Goes Wrong’ stage plays and TV programmes. Indeed, this is usually a live theatre production for them as well (which I haven’t yet been to), but over the final week of the year they did 6 shows online from their own special bunker in London, with the final show on New Year’s Eve.
All the shows were streamed live and were entirely improvised, based on ideas from the audience, in a similar vein to Whose Line Is It Anyway?. This meant that every show was different and therefore, like many people, I booked to see all of them. And I’m glad I did, because they were hilarious! I could see everything well enough on my big computer screen, so the lack of audio description wasn’t a problem – and I think it would have been impossible to provide anyway, largely due to the pace and its unpredictable nature, but also because any describers would surely find it hard not to laugh as well!
The unique productions consisted of:
- Lasers & Quasars – A musical set on a cruise ship in space, including talking asteroids and an important lesson about taking a pet sloth on a date.
- I Found It In The Bushes – A teen vampire horror, including a father and son who kept getting their names mixed up, and timely advice from a member of the audience playing a ghost from Blackpool.
- Who Bun It? – A murder mystery in a village church, where all the characters were animals, some of whom greatly amused a local taxi driver by dancing.
- Flat Pack Attack – A fantasy horror set in Ikea, including a character who talks in rhyming couplets and a death marked in traditional fashion by an Irish jig.
- From Russia With Gloves – A spy thriller set in a rainforest, including a spy falling in love with her talking pet koala, and a man doing the loneliest conga.
- Cat In The Habit – A period drama about star-crossed lovers in a convent, including a character called Penelope Mayhem and unusual product placement.
It was really funny seeing what they came up with and the tangles they got themselves into, including the many different characters, inventive use of props and catchy musical numbers. And the device of having Oscar as the presenter, who could pause, rewind, commentate and jump to particular scenes as if watching a DVD, ensured that the action never got stuck in a rut and kept moving with variety and fun surprises. It was also amusing to see how exasperated he got at some of the silly decisions made by the cast, or the moments where he just broke down with laughter with the rest of us at what was going on.
It was just delightfully absurd, and much needed escapism. It takes a lot of creative skill and energy to do this kind of improvisation work on a regular basis, and it shows here. And the great news is that they’re returning for 10 more shows later in January, as this first run was so successful, including a late night matinee, a stream with British Sign Language and Captions, and a Valentine’s Day rom-com. So I can definitely recommend booking on to those.
On a related note, it was also fun to watch their Covid Safety Video, featuring stars of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and Six The Musical, and there are many other fun clips on their channel too. I’ll be coming back to them again later in this post as well.
Other Online Theatre
Apart from that, I also saw the pantomime of Dick Whittington, which the National Theatre very generously shared on Youtube for a limited period, after venues were forced to close yet again. And it was really good fun, with lots of comedy and music, and a few topical references of course. The post-show talk with Q&A was also interesting. If you missed the show, it will be available on their new streaming service, National Theatre At Home, from 11 January for 6 weeks. There are many other shows available on the site too, all of which are captioned. They’ve also added audio description and British Sign Language to a few of them, and have promised to make more shows accessible in the near future, which is great.
And it was also really nice to see a video of Brian Conley’s curtain call speech from their Christmas Carol Musical, at the end of their opening night at The Dominion Theatre, the day before theatres had to close again. It was very much a night of mixed emotions for them, with the joy of being back on stage coupled with the sadness and frustration of immediately closing, and Brian summed it up really well. And talking of short-lived re-openings, you can also see the first Megasix from the re-opening of Six The Musical. You can tell just how happy the performers and audience members are to be back together again, even if it was only briefly in the end.
The latest Doctor Who special, Revolution Of The Daleks, which had already been filmed before the pandemic kicked in last year, was good fun as always. It’s a shame that companions Ryan and Graham have left, but it was the right time for them I think. And it was fabulous to see Captain Jack reunited with The Doctor again of course, I hope we see more of him soon. There were nice references to Rose and Gwen as well, so maybe the seeds are being planted for possible reappearances there, who knows? A soundtrack album has been released for the episode as well, although Segun Akinola’s music, while adding some nice atmosphere, still isn’t as good as Murray Gold’s was. I also bought the new steelbook Blu-ray edition of Series 7, to continue building up my collection of those.
Series 13 is already in the works of course, and I’m excited that comedian John Bishop will be starring as a companion. Filming didn’t start until November due to the pandemic, and John is currently recovering from a bout of Covid himself, but it’s not expected to affect things when filming resumes later in January. The season will only have 8 episodes because of the restrictions they’re under, but that’s better than none. So we’ll just have to wait patiently until it comes out.
Online, a huge group of fans recently got together to perform a lockdown version of Abigail’s Song from the 2010 Christmas Carol special, which sounds beautiful, as does the a cappella version. They’re both on the Doctor Who Lockdown channel, which has other fun bits and pieces too.
And there were also a couple of special Doctor Who quizzes that I enjoyed, both of which were raising money for charity. The quiz presented by David & Georgia Tennant to raise money for Marie Curie Nurses was very good fun, featuring lots of special guests from the show posing some of the questions. And there was an enjoyable edition of Jay’s Virtual Pub Quiz with Billie Piper & Matt Smith in support of the Refuge domestic violence charity. It was great to see all those cast members taking part, following other nice occasions where stars from the show have appeared online this year.
The Demon Headmaster
Perhaps more surprisingly, I decided to go on a nostalgia trip this month by treating myself to all 3 series of The Demon Headmaster on DVD. It’s very rare for me to buy a children’s series, because most of the ones I saw as a kid I’m not interested in keeping or rewatching as an adult. But I’ve always had a particular fondness for this show, about a headmaster who can hypnotise almost everybody and has dastardly plans to take over the world. It’s just stuck in my mind ever since I was young, and I know from social media I’m by far not the only one. So perhaps the main character really was as powerful as he claimed!
Terrence Hardiman was brilliantly scary as the eponymous enemy, and Frances Amey was very good in the role of Dinah, who helped to defeat the headmaster multiple times with the help of her gang of friends called SPLAT (The Society for the Protection of our Lives Against Them). Among other big names the show also featured Tessa Peake-Jones (best known as Raquel from Only Fools And Horses) as Dinah’s adoptive mother, and Danny John-Jules (who we all know as The Cat from Red Dwarf) in the role of game show host Eddy Hair. So there was a great cast, and the series was even nominated for a BAFTA.
The DVD set finally came out in 2018, so I’ve had it in mind to get for some time, and this was a good opportunity given that there weren’t many new releases of interest this year. Sure, it is a bit dated and the special effects are cheaply done sometimes, plus it’s a shame there are no extra features. But the series still holds up very well, with lots of humour and charm mixed with some tense moments. So it brings back great memories for me. I’ve never read the original books on which the episodes were based (though I’m sure I will one day), so I can’t compare them. But the programme was certainly very popular in its day, and with good reason. It’s one of those real classics from the 90s.
The BBC relaunched the series in 2019, based on the more recent books, so I gave that a go on iPlayer after I’d finished the DVDs. It’s set in a modern school with a new headmaster, who again is hypnotising everyone to do his bidding, while a girl called Lizzie tries to stop him with some of her mates. So the basic premise is the same. And it’s a direct sequel to the original show with some nice callbacks, including the return of Dinah and Rose (played by different actors this time), while Hardiman himself makes a great cameo appearance as the original headmaster at the end. It’s perhaps not quite as good as the original show, so I don’t think I’d buy it on DVD necessarily, but it’s still fun. And there is going to be a second series, so I’ll probably check it out to see how the story continues.
On Disney+ this month I watched the first 3 Home Alone films again, because I hadn’t seen them for a little while, and the title is rather appropriate in the current climate. Plus the first 2 are classics of course, so it’s effectively law to watch them every few years at least. I only watched the third film as it was also on Disney+ and it’s been much longer since I last saw it, so I thought I’d see if it’s as inferior as I remember – and it is. It’s not as bad as films 4 & 5, which everybody knows are awful and I don’t want to rewatch those, but it doesn’t come close to 1 or 2 either. So the first 2 films are the only ones I’ll continue to revisit every so often in the future. They never get boring.
My mother, meanwhile, has been watching some of the Carry On films and the On The Buses films, as ITV3 filled their schedule with them on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. I don’t normally mention what she watches, but I recorded them all for her as I saw they had audio description, which hasn’t always been available in the past, and still isn’t on the DVDs. She likes some more than others, as they’re very variable in quality, so she wouldn’t want to own them all anyway. But it’s been nice for her to watch them properly for the first time in a long while. I’ve seen a few of them in the past as well of course, and they’re ok, but they’re not really my thing. Mum was also able to watch Hercule Poirot’s Christmas with AD on the same channel, and she liked that too.
My friend Claire very kindly gifted me the audiobook of The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman for Christmas. It’s the debut novel by the TV producer and gameshow host, who also has nystagmus like me, and it’s sold really well with excellent reviews. So I’d been interested in getting it for a while, and Mum was keen to hear to it as well, so we’re both listening to it bit by bit when we have our dinners, and we’re enjoying it at the moment. It’s basically about a group of retired people who try to solve the murder of a property developer in their village, and it’s very well written, with humorous touches and nice little references to modern life. So it’s pretty good, I can recommend it based on what we’ve heard so far.
I’ve watched a lot of stand-up comedy online before, but December marked the first time I’d attended a live gig. I was among over 200 people in the Zoom audience for the Frank’s Fund Christmas Comedy Fundraiser, which was being held in support of Frank’s Fund for the Bone Cancer Research Trust. It’s named after Frank Ashton, a 14 year old boy who died of a rare form of bone cancer in 2019, and the fund was set up by his parents to raise money for vital research into the disease.
The fund’s patron, comedian Maisie Adam, went to the same school as Frank and had hosted the first charity gig in his honour last year. But this time she had to present it online instead of in person, and she did a great job at keeping things moving along. We were treated to comedy routines from Angela Barnes (my favourite of the night), Jayde Adams and Russell Kane, plus a Christmas song from The Quarantinis. There was also a raffle, with M&S hampers, teas, coffees, beers, soaps and James Acaster tickets up for grabs, plus an auction for a signed Chelsea shirt and a holiday home in France. I didn’t win any of that stuff, but that didn’t matter. It was a great evening’s entertainment that raised over £5,000 for a very important cause, that was the main thing.
Over on Youtube, Sarah Millican very generously posted her complete Home Bird show from 2014 on her channel, so I watched that and really enjoyed it. She had already uploaded Chatterbox (2011) & Thoroughly Modern Millican (2012) about a year before that too, and as a subscriber to Amazon Prime Video I can also see her shows Outsider (2016) & Control Enthusiast (2018) for free. So I took the opportunity to watch all of them, which was a great way to finish the year. I’ve seen one or two of those shows on TV in the past of course, but not for quite a while, so it was good to see them all together, and I’ve included the DVDs in my next Amazon order. I know there’s a DVD compilation for her old TV programme as well, and there are various clips from that show on her Youtube channel too, but I’m not interested in getting that. Her full stand-up shows are the best way to see her.
On TV, meanwhile, I saw Secrets Of The Apollo, which was a celebration of the BBC’s stand-up series Live At The Apollo, talking to lots of the comedians who had appeared on the programme. So that was ok, it had some good clips and nice little insights. And talking of jokes, the Gold channel posted their Top 20 Christmas Cracker Jokes about the year, after inviting the public to send in their suggestions, and there are some pretty good ones in there.
Back to Mischief Theatre again, and I really enjoyed their latest Christmas special from The Goes Wrong Show, which this year was about The Nativity, and was fabulously farcical as always. It’s the first episode of series 2, the rest of which will be broadcast at a later date, so I’m looking forward to that. I also rewatched the Christmas special that launched Series 1 (The Spirit Of Christmas). And in December they also released their earlier Christmas specials to stream on Amazon (Peter Pan Goes Wrong & A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong), so it was great to watch those again too. They’re all really funny and very well performed.
And talking of people doing silly things and making fools of themselves, I enjoyed the New Year special of Taskmaster, which featured people who weren’t comedians for a change (John Hannah, Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Nicola Coughlan, Rylan Clark-Neal & Shirley Ballas). It doesn’t matter what backgrounds people have, it’s always amusing to see them attempting the tasks on this show, as it’s so different to what they normally do. So it still worked quite well. And we’ve got lots more to look forward to from Taskmaster in 2021, with Series 11 having already been filmed, and the Series 6 to 10 Champion Of Champions special to come as well.
Alex Horne has also promised some new home tasks to keep people occupied during lockdown, so keep an eye on the Youtube channel and his Twitter page for more details. And the podcast is continuing with an in-depth look at Series 1.
It was also lovely to see Dawn French playing Geraldine again in the 3 short lockdown episodes from The Vicar Of Dibley (which were then combined into a compilation with some additional material). They followed on from her appearance on The Big Night In earlier in the year. In these new specials the vicar was posting online messages to her parishioners throughout the pandemic, and it had some amusing moments, with occasional serious and emotional points too. It was also good to see Hugo again, and there was a lovely tribute to Alice, in reference to the untimely passing of actress Emma Chambers in 2018.
The new episode of Worzel Gummidge starring Mackenzie Crook was fun too, in which he and his friends tried to return a ship’s figurehead to her rightful place by the coast. It’s not a series I would buy to keep necessarily, but it’s easy viewing with good humour and scenic visuals, so it’s a lovely way to pass the time.
I also saw the 30th anniversary celebration of Have I Got News For You, which had some interesting insights into its production over the years, including footage from the unaired pilot episode, a discussion about Angus Deayton’s scandals and his departure from the show, and Alexander Armstrong’s audition to be the new permanent host before they decided to stick with guest presenters.
Over on Netflix, meanwhile, there was a brilliant new spoof documentary about the year called Death To 2020, by Black Mirror producers Charlie Brooker & Annabel Jones (and you know 2020’s been weird when even Black Mirror couldn’t predict it!). This new show took us through the many big events of the last 12 months with spot-on observational humour, and featured some really big names including Laurence Fishburne as the narrator, plus Samuel L. Jackson, Hugh Grant, Lisa Kudrow, Tracey Ullman, Diane Morgan, and more.
Back on TV, and as usual I also enjoyed the new festive specials of Not Going Out (the last episode featuring Bobby Ball before he sadly passed away with Covid-19), The Last Leg, QI XL, Mock The Week, Would I Lie To You?, 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown, The Big Fat Quiz, etc. Plus, like every year, I rewatched a few of the older Christmas episodes from some of my favourite sitcoms and other comedies.
There’s plenty to look forward to in early January as well, with new series of various shows including Not Going Out, Would I Lie To You?, Mock The Week, The Last Leg & 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown, plus a second series of Staged featuring Michael Sheen and David Tennant (with the DVD of series 1 & 2 coming out in February), along with new episodes of QI XL and The Big Fat Quiz Of Everything, a documentary celebrating the 30th anniversary of Mr Bean, and other things that I’ve got lined up to watch. So I won’t be bored on that front anytime soon.
On the radio, meanwhile, Mum and I have been enjoying the recent new series of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, which began with the last 2 episodes recorded by Tim Brooke-Taylor in March, before he sadly died due to Covid. And that’s been followed by lockdown episodes recorded from people’s homes, which have worked well. The Unbelievable Truth is back for a new series in early January as well, and we know that Just A Minute is returning with guest presenters in 2021, as the wonderful Nicholas Parsons is sadly no longer with us. It’s a good way of auditioning to see if they can find another permanent host (my money’s on someone like Gyles Brandreth, as he knows the show well and has hosted it before when Nicholas has been absent), but maybe they’ll be happy to continue with guest presenters. We’ll have to see what happens.
And on DVD to finish this section, I bought Completely Bad News by the Comic Strip group in December, featuring Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson, Nigel Planer, Peter Richardson, Dawn French & Jennifer Saunders. I’m not hugely into the Comic Strip series overall, as a lot of the episodes don’t appeal to me much. But I do like the spoof metal band Bad News and have their music in my collection, including a 2-CD live album I bought alongside the DVD.
The DVD features both of their Comic Strip episodes, plus a few extras including their deliberately awful Bohemian Rhapsody music video with some additional footage (their cover having been approved by Brian May who helped to produce their music), plus a little retrospective featuring Nigel and Peter playing their characters, and for some reason a foreign version of the first episode. Without the latter, everything could have been squeezed on to one disc really.
That DVD and the live CD were both due to be part of a Bad News box set that was severely delayed when the original crowdfunding company selling it (PledgeMusic) collapsed in 2019. It was eventually released in late 2020, but it’s abundantly clear from all the reviews, including a Youtube unboxing and the Amazon feedback, that it doesn’t contain everything that was originally promised, and what little it does have is of poor quality. They clearly cut a lot of corners to get it out, which is very disappointing. So I’m glad I waited for those reviews and didn’t fork out for it, instead just buying the DVD and CD sets on their own. The picture and sound quality haven’t been remastered, but it’s reasonable enough, and it’s clearly the best we can hope for now. The small red on black text in the booklet is impossible for me to read too, but I’ve been able to scan it and blow it up on my computer screen, so I could read it there. But the DVD’s the important part anyway, so I’m glad I got that.
This month I continued my Queen At 50 series with an epic set of posts about their iconic album A Night At The Opera, exploring Tracks 1-7, 8-10, 11-12 and cover versions of Bohemian Rhapsody in a lot of detail. And I shared some photos of a walk I took around some Queen locations in London too.
And on other Queen-related notes I also enjoyed:
- Peter Freestone’s memories of Christmas with Freddie – Spending yuletide in Freddie’s company sounds like it would have been so much fun, he was determined for everyone to have a good time.
- One Beautiful Christmas Day – The lovely new Christmas single by Kerry Ellis & Brian May, which she also sang on a live Instagram Stream using an instrumental recording by Brian.
- It’s Gonna Be All Right – Kerry & Brian performed an updated version of their song live on Instagram, although the sound quality’s not very good. Still, it’s lovely to see them chatting together and the sentiment of the song comes across well. They’re also considering doing a studio recording of this new version, which I’d certainly buy if they did it.
- Endless Rain – A nice performance by Yoshiki from a Japanese TV show for New Year’s Eve, featuring Sarah Brightman, Brian May & Roger Taylor.
Away from Queen, I enjoyed a few interesting programmes on BBC Four over the festive period:
- The Sound Of TV with Neil Brand – This was a new 3-part series about the music that has defined TV over the decades, including theme tunes, jingles and scores. The first episode was the most interesting for me, as it looked closely at the well-known themes for shows like Doctor Who, The Simpsons, Eastenders, Game Of Thrones, Sherlock, and many others, which are iconic pieces of music even if you’re not a fan of the programmes themselves. It included interviews with the composers and series creators, who gave some surprising little insights, and also looked at some of the library music that has been used heavily in programmes over the years. But the other episodes also had very interesting moments as well. Neil covered a range of shows and music styles, so there was something of interest for everyone, and it was a great illustration of the power that music has in the TV world.
- The Shadows At Sixty – Mum and I both enjoyed this interesting documentary that celebrated the band’s 60th anniversary, including interviews with Hank Marvin, Brian Bennett, Cliff Richard, Brian May and more. There was also a compilation of Cliff Richard’s BBC performances that we enjoyed too.
- Dusty Springfield – Mum and I liked watching an episode of her Dusty series with guest Scott Walker, and a compilation of her performances at the BBC.
And talking of documentaries, I’ve also seen Peter Jackson’s sneak peek of Get Back, his upcoming film about The Beatles. It was delayed due to the pandemic, but is currently due to hit cinemas on 27 August 2021. It looks pretty interesting.
On a humorous note, meanwhile, there were a few fun comedy songs released over Christmas, including:
- The Horne Section – Christmas Family Album – This enjoyably silly record includes the songs Fiddly Christmas, Buckaroo & Guess Who.
- The Ulster Fry – Now That’s What I Call A Corona Christmas – Sadly they haven’t actually made the album featured in this brilliant parody advert, which is a pity! But if you enjoyed it, they are encouraging donations to Cash For Kids in Northern Ireland.
And on the charity front, there have been a selection of enjoyable tracks released in support of great causes, including:
- West End Singers – Christmas Again (The Show Must Go On) – Produced as a tribute to everyone in the theatre industry, with profits going to the Theatre Support Fund+.
- Rock Choir – Keeping The Dream Alive – Profits from this go to the Mental Health Foundation.
- Musicians Together & Sweet Charity Choir – Christmas Of Hope – Raising money for Help Musicians.
- NHS Supporters Choir, Sweet Charity Choir & Guests – The 12 Days Of Christmas (Lockdown Style) – This features celebrity guests including Ringo Starr, Keira Knightley & Joe Lycett, in support of the Pin Your Thanks campaign. See the article by Theatre Weekly for more details.
- ICU Liberty Singers – Every Breath You Take – A cover of the Police song by a 100-strong group of intensive care staff, to raise money to support the mental health of ICU staff. See this BBC News article for info.
- Matt Lucas – Merry Christmas Baked Potato – After the resounding success of Thank You Baked Potato earlier in the year, it was of no surprise to see a festive song pop up. And this time the proceeds go to FareShare.
- LadBaby – Don’t Stop Me Eatin’ (plus a version with Ronan Keating) – Their latest silly song about sausage rolls made history when it became their third consecutive Christmas number 1, a feat only previously achieved by The Beatles and The Spice Girls, meaning they’re the only novelty act ever to do it, and they streamed their live reaction to hitting the top spot. Again they were raising money for food bank charity The Trussell Trust, whose work has been more vital than ever this past year, and it’s a cause close to their hearts. They’ve also produced Sausage Roll flavour crisps with Walkers for the same cause (which I haven’t tried yet), and you can see behind the scenes of that advert. So well done to them for raising so much money and awareness via their platform.
Look at the descriptions for all those videos to see more detail about the causes being supported and how to buy the songs.
And finally, some of the other enjoyable Christmas music out there has included:
- The Choir Project MCR – Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
- The Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain – Jingle Bells, Good King Wenceslas & We Wish You A Merry Christmas
- VIP Singers – Peace On Earth (Little Drummer Boy) – A visually impaired choir.
- Jazzy Fabbry – Last Christmas – A lovely piano cover of this classic tune.
- Hauser – All I Want For Christmas Is You – And various other festive tunes on his Youtube, Facebook & Instagram pages.
There are many more festive songs on my Christmas playlist as well of course.
And that’s it! I hope you enjoyed that bumper update to finish off 2020, and I hope you had a good time too. I’ll be posting a general recap of 2020 soon as well, as there were some highlights for me despite it being a horrible year overall.
As I said at the start, we have a tough winter ahead, with another lockdown implemented here in the UK, just as many other countries have re-introduced tough restrictions. But we have good reason to be hopeful now that the vaccines are being rolled out too. My mother is keen to have hers as soon as it’s offered. So there’s definitely light at the end of this very long tunnel, we just have to be patient and continue to follow the rules for the time being. We will get through it, we’ve made it this far!
But for now I’ll leave you with London’s beautiful New Year display of cleverly choreographed drone art, laser lights and fireworks, which made good use of the O2 Arena, Wembley Stadium, Tower Bridge and The Shard, including imagery relating to the NHS, Captain Tom, video conferencing, Black Lives Matter, the Pride movement, climate change, and an overall message of hope and togetherness. It was a suitably reflective display in the circumstances.
So my very best wishes for 2021 to you all. Here’s to achieving a better year of hope, health and happiness! 🙂